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Rep. Austin Scott: How Putin’s war is emptying the breadbasket of the world

The Washington Examiner
By Rep. Austin Scott (GA-08)

Russian President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine isn't just robbing Ukraine of its freedom — it is stealing from the breadbasket of the world. If history is any guide, the actions of this unhinged man may cause one of the most disastrous global food supply shortages since World War II.

Ukraine exports over 50 million metric tons of corn and wheat to the world, and Ukrainian farmers would normally be planting crops right now. With Putin's invasion, that is unlikely to happen.

Russia and Ukraine were expected to provide around 30% of global wheat exports and 20% of corn exports prior to Putin's invasion. For context, the United States accounts for approximately 11% of global wheat exports.

Putin's blockade in the Black Sea is an act of economic warfare against the world. Any shipping restrictions in the Black Sea will not only slow trade but will also make it more expensive. Countries in the Middle East and Africa rely on the Black Sea trade for critical supplies such as wheat. Even the U.S. relies on Black Sea trade to export more than $130 million of poultry products to Central Asia and other countries in the region.

Russia and Belarus account for 40% of global potash exports, which is key for fertilizer. This significant decrease in fertilizer supply hinders global agricultural production and heightens the likelihood of food insecurity for at-risk nations.

I have been working in my unique capacity as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Agriculture Committee to monitor and prepare for the global food shortage caused by Putin's obsession with restoring the former Soviet Union. With over one-fourth of Ukraine's grain exports going into the Indo-Pacific region, I asked the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to research what a 5-10% reduction in the food supply would look like in this region in a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing. I also warned U.S. Southern Command about the food shortages that countries in the Western Hemisphere could soon experience and asked that it also look at the impact of a decrease in the global food supply.

A common misconception when discussing global food supply reduction is that a 5% reduction means that countries will equally see a similar decrease in supply. The reality is that grain prices will increase, and some countries will struggle to compete in the newly higher cost market while wealthier countries will still be able to purchase grain and shift the cost to consumers.

Many of the world's poorest countries may see a significant decrease in food supply to their people due to rising global costs. A prolonged war in Ukraine means hunger is on the horizon for any nation that cannot adjust to higher food prices and any consumer who cannot foot the bill. Countries in South Asia, Western Asia, and Africa are at major risk for food insecurity because they rely on the Black Sea for the transit of their food.

Grains are not the only food on deck for a price increase. Ukraine is also the largest producer of sunflowers in the world, making them the largest exporter of sunflower oil, responsible for over 40% of global supply. The U.S. uses tons of sunflower oil annually to produce food such as potato chips. India is one of Ukraine's largest buyers of sunflower oil, with 80% of it supplied by Ukraine in 2021. China, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy are also major importers of Ukrainian sunflower oil and will experience market disruption.

As Ukrainian farmers watch their farms turn to battlefields and trade their tractors for tanks, know that the devastating impact of Putin's invasion extends far beyond Ukraine. His continued aggression will have catastrophic consequences that are felt on a global scale.

Rep. Austin Scott is a Republican who represents Georgia's 8th Congressional District.