War in Ukraine – what next for the global food system?

The images of suffering in Ukraine as Russia’s invasion continues are some of the most horrifying seen in Europe for decades.

The war has already led to the deaths of thousands, caused to the destruction of homes, and completely destroyed many people’s way of life.

Among the terrible scenes in Ukraine, we see a country which is a linchpin of the global food system, undergoing catastrophic change.

The ripples will be felt across the world.

The World Bank has warned it will cause the “largest commodity shock” since the 1970s and, of course, the impact will be felt acutely in Ukraine for decades to come.

The global response has been to impose punishing sanctions on Russia, that too will have consequences for the food sector.

So how is the global food system adjusting? And just what will be the effect on global food insecurity?

In this edition of the Table Talk podcast, Stefan Gates is joined by Professor Tony Heron and PhD researcher Paulina Flores Martinez, from the University of York, to discuss the impacts of the war on the food system, how the rest of the world might respond, and the repercussions of that response.

Around a quarter of all adults in Ukraine are employed in the agricultural sector and the country is often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe.

But the destruction caused by the war, as well as the redeployment of resources and land for the war effort, mean supplies of wheat, sunflower and barley are badly affected.

Countries which rely heavily on these commodities from Ukraine are already facing shortages and globally prices are rising fast.

Within Ukraine, people who rely on the land to make a living are suffering not only from the devastation of the war, but also from a lack of income.

The West has levied punishing sanctions on Russia, which has responded by banning the trade of some commodities. That too is pushing prices up.

So how will nations react to shortages and price rises in a globalised system? How will people react to the rising cost of living? And what will the global food system look like in years to come?

Tony Heron, Professor of International Political Economy, the University of York

Tony Heron is currently serving as a Parliamentary Academic Fellow to the House of Commons International Trade Committee.

He is the author of three books and numerous articles and book chapters with many of the world’s leading academic journals and publishers.

Tony’s current work is centred on interdisciplinary global food systems research, sustainability governance in global value chains, the political economy of the UK’s independent trade policy and the politics of agricultural reform in the context of Brexit.

Tony is co-editor of the journal New Political Economy.

Paulina Flores Martinez, PhD student, University of York

Prior to re-joining academia, Paulina worked as policy analyst and consultant in the agricultural and environmental ministries in Mexico.

Her PhD project explores the environmental governance of key agri-food commodities in Latin America.

Paulina’s research interests around food systems include the politics of private and non-state governance of broader environmental issues, and the intersection between international food trade and environment global change.

Close up of tank in desolate field, shot from below

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War in Ukraine – what next for the global food system?