If Russia’s invasion and subsequent war significantly reduce Ukrainian grain exports, rising prices could increase food insecurity and carbon dioxide emissions as marginal land is pushed into crop production. That is the chain reaction predicted by modeling from a research team led by Amani Elobeid, a teaching professor of economics at Iowa State University. An article about their projections was recently published in Nature Food, an academic journal.
Elobeid and her colleagues, Jerome Dumortier of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Miguel Carriquiry of the University of the Republic in Uruguay, ran their models shortly after the invasion began in February in the hopes of estimating the impact on global grain markets and the subsequent climate implications.
“We’re trying to present a more complete picture of what this war is costing the world,” she said.
An additional 5% increase in food prices may not be that concerning in the United States. However, in countries with extreme poverty and high levels of food insecurity, even a 1% increase is significant.Jerome Dumortier
Ukraine, known as the “bread basket of Europe,” is a major exporter of wheat and corn. A July agreement with Russia aims to allow Ukrainian grain shipments, but it’s unclear how effective it will be in limiting the war’s impact on exports. Researchers examined four potential outcomes for the study: a 50% drop in Ukrainian exports and three scenarios assuming no Ukrainian exports in combination with other related situations or responses, such as a reduction in biofuel production in the United States and Europe or a 50% drop in Russian grain exports.
Their models estimate how changes in global agricultural markets impact production, trade, food consumption and prices – which in turn affect what land is used for crops. When the price of corn goes up due to a shortage, for instance, dense Brazilian forests are likelier to be razed for farming because there’s an incentive to expand production.
Depending on the scenario, the cost of wheat would rise up to 7.2%, while the price hike for corn could reach 4.6%. Elobeid said those spikes would be on top of already rising food costs and would disproportionally worsen hunger in poorer countries in Africa and the Middle East, regions which rely heavily on grain imports from Ukraine.
“An additional 5% increase in food prices may not be that concerning in the United States. However, in countries with extreme poverty and high levels of food insecurity, even a 1% increase is significant” she stated.
According to the study, the amount of new land used for crop production would range from 16.3 million to 45 million acres globally, resulting in an average estimated increase in carbon emissions between 527 million and 1.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Increased subsidies for lower-income households in wealthier countries would help offset higher food prices, but that is not an option in poorer countries, according to Elobeid. Removing trade barriers and enacting policies such as temporarily lowering biofuel mandates would help lower global grain prices and limit land-use changes that increase carbon emissions. The most effective policy response, on the other hand, is obvious but elusive.
“The obvious solution is to end the conflict,” she stated.