While saying it does not foresee food shortages hitting the United States, the White House confirmed Monday that it expects critical food shortages around the globe and higher grocery bills at home.
Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine means “higher energy, fertilizer, wheat, and corn prices” that could impact both growing and purchasing food. The effects are expected to be strongest in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
Russia and Ukraine together account for almost 30% of global wheat trade, and prices are already at record highs with no end to the conflict in sight. Both are seen as “bread basket” countries that supply staple food goods to many parts of the globe.
Experts say it’s no longer a question of if there will be a food crisis, but rather how severe the crisis will be.
Wheat planting season is about to begin in Ukraine, and between having enough farmers to work the land and equipment and supplies to grow its crops, it is doubtful that the country will export anything of consequence for the foreseeable future.
The United Nations’ World Food Program says the global food system, which is a carefully balanced collaboration of many countries playing their roles in global food production, was already strained before the Russian invasion.
Some countries, already looking to ensure enough food for their own populations, are taking steps that will quickly affect food importers. Egypt banned the export of wheat, flour, lentils and beans to protect its food reserves while Indonesia has stiffened export restrictions on its own food products.
For Americans, the increases expected from the Ukraine war, which the White House describes as having a “lagging impact,” are on top of what is already a 40-year high for food inflation.
Americans on average spend 13.4 cents of every dollar for food, and outlays are now higher for both food away from home and prepared at home. Meat prices lead the way skyward, having spiked almost 14% in the past year.
U.S. farmers import an estimated $10.3 billion in fertilizer each year, and well over 10% of that comes from Russia. Those supplies are now gone, and many fertilizers are four and five times more expensive than just a year ago. These prices will soon hit the grocery shelves.
What all of this means here at home is more bad news for consumers who already pay top dollar for basic essentials like food and gas. Around the world, the outlook is even more grim as undoubtedly calls are coming to supply needful populations with increasingly expensive and scarce food.