From a devastating global pandemic to Russia’s invasion and war in Ukraine, all while the disastrous effects of climate change continue to be felt at record-breaking levels, the pressure on the global food supply chain has never been higher. How will you be affected? Are there steps you can take to prepare for the coming food shortages? How can you better prepare yourself and your community for food shortages?
What you Need to Know
The Global Price of Food Index is at an all-time high. Food prices, from wheat to soybean oil, are skyrocketing. While no single issue can be attributed to the falling supply, several issues have played a role in rising food prices.
Why are There Food Shortages?
A collection of many issues around the world all merged to create the perfect storm for the global food supply chain. Among these issues includes the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the subsequent supply chain breakdown, the record heat and drought in much of the world as a result of worsening climate change, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the subsequent Ukrainian crisis, and the export restrictions imposed by exporters of wheat in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Lockdown Strain – 2020/2021
When the world went into lockdown in 2020, the global supply chain halted. Dramatic photos showed larger-than-life backlogs at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a visual representation of the pandemic’s continuing impact on global supply chains. Even after more than two years since the beginning of the lockdowns in the United States, industries are still catching up.
Heat Waves and Drought – 2021/2022
When wheat exports stopped in both Russia and Ukraine as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, India stepped in and began exporting its surplus wheat. Just a couple of months later, the hottest temperatures recorded in 122 years in India reduced projected wheat yields, and the country decided to ban exports in order to protect consumers inside the country.
Drought in parts of South America and the United States has also reduced crop yields, most notably of the soybean in South America, further tightening the vegetable oil market in conjunction with the lack of sunflower oil being exported out of Russia and Ukraine as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The massive drought in the western United States has also reduced agricultural output. In 2021, the agricultural sector in California lost an estimated $1.1 billion dollars due to yield declines, crop damage from deficit irrigation and wildfire smoke, and increased pumping costs. As heat waves and drought continue to affect the world’s agricultural output, consumers will bear the cost.
Invasion of Ukraine – 2022
When Russia invaded Ukraine, both nations stopped exporting wheat, an amount totaling more than 25% of the world’s wheat supply. This sudden halting of wheat exports quickly drove up costs for the grain all over the world.
As prices rose, nations including India, Argentina, Hungary, and Serbia sought to protect domestic consumers of wheat by limiting or outright banning wheat exports. While this ban reduced the cost for consumers within those nations, it continues to make the situation worse for those residing in net-importing nations who rely on net-exporters of wheat to feed their populations.
Rising Fertilizer and Energy Prices – 2022
In addition to wheat, Russia stopped exporting 20 percent of the world’s nitrogen fertilizers along with potassium fertilizers from both Russia and Belarus which made up 40 percent of the world’s exported supply. This reduction in fertilizer is reducing crop yields and threatening to worsen the global food supply chain crisis.
While fertilizers directly affect crop output at the level of the farmer, the price of energy affects every single level of the supply chain, and energy prices around the world are going up. This will make producing, packaging, and shipping food much more expensive.
How to Prepare
Tell your Representative to Support International Cooperation for Net-Importers
Let’s get one thing clear: there is enough food to feed everyone on this planet. The issue is distributing that food to those who need it. Experts are not predicting a food crisis in the United States or any other rich countries anytime soon. But countries who are net importers of grain and other foods, many of which are already undergoing or lying on the brink of major societal conflict, depend on the world for food. If we let them starve, it will be a major humanitarian crisis.
It’s our responsibility as a major net-exporter of perishables to uplift those countries so that everyone on Earth has food to eat.
Reduce Food Waste
While you aren’t likely to see a food shortage if you live in the United States or Europe, you are going to continue experiencing rising food costs. Keeping food prices low means buying less but even more importantly, it means wasting less.
The United Nations estimates that one-third of the food produced worldwide is wasted. That’s 1.3 billion tons of food each year! When you waste food, you’re also wasting all of the valuable resources (like water and energy) that were used to produce that food.
Here are a few easy ways to keep food out of the landfill:
- Plan your meals and only buy the ingredients you need
- Store food properly to reduce spoilage
- Donate excess food to a local food bank
However, you can skip the trip to the store entirely and get discounted groceries delivered to your door through a supplier like Misfits Market or Imperfect foods. These companies work directly with farmers and suppliers to sell the food that grocery stores reject. Not only will you save money, but you will stop food waste at the retail level.
Start a Garden
Whether you live in a 2000-square-foot home in the suburbs, on a 5-acre ranch in rural America, or in a studio apartment on the sixteenth floor, you can have a garden. If you have a big yard, plant drought-tolerant crops like tomatoes, potatoes, and winter squash. If you have a small indoor space, grow mushrooms, carrots, spinach, kale, and microgreens in indoor pots. Urban gardening is a great way to lower your carbon footprint while still enjoying the compact lifestyle of a city. If you want to learn more, check out our beginner’s guide to urban farming.
Not only does gardening reduce stress and improve mobility, but it improves food security–for you and others around the world. Every bit of food you produce reduces supply chain strain carbon emissions, from the farm to your table.
Use Compost as Fertilizer
When looking to increase growth in your garden, avoid buying synthetic fertilizers from the store. Instead, buy organic composts or start your own compost. You can start a compost pile in your backyard or, if you live in an apartment or other small space, start a compost in your kitchen with a countertop composter.
Support Local Farmers
In addition to growing some of your own food, consider supporting local farmers. You can subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture or shop at your local farmer’s market. Not only do local, small farmers use more sustainable practices than large-scale commercial operations, but you are saving the energy required to transport food from a far away location to your grocery store.