By Nicole Winfield in Rome
ROME (AP) — Prices for food commodities like grains and vegetable oils reached their highest levels ever last month largely because of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the “massive supply disruptions” it is causing, threatening millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere with hunger and malnourishment, the United Nations said Friday.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said its Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices for a basket of commodities, averaged 159.3 points last month, up 12.6% from February. As it is, the February index was the highest level since its inception in 1990.
FAO said the war in Ukraine was largely responsible for the 17.1% rise in the price of grains, including wheat and others like oats, barley and corn. Together, Russia and Ukraine account for around 30% and 20% of global wheat and corn exports, respectively.
While predictable given February’s steep rise, “this is really remarkable,” said Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s markets and trade division. “Clearly, these very high prices for food require urgent action.”
The biggest price increases were for vegetable oils: that price index rose 23.2%, driven by higher quotations for sunflower seed oil that is used for cooking. Ukraine is the world’s leading exporter of sunflower oil, and Russia is No. 2.
“There is, of course, a massive supply disruption, and that massive supply disruption from the Black Sea region has fueled prices for vegetable oil,” Schmidhuber told reporters in Geneva.
He said he couldn’t calculate how much the war was to blame for the record food prices, noting that poor weather conditions in the United States and China also were blamed for crop concerns. But he said “logistical factors” were playing a big role.
“Essentially, there are no exports through the Black Sea, and exports through the Baltics is practically also coming to an end,” he said.
Soaring food prices and disruption to supplies coming from Russia and Ukraine have threatened food shortages in countries in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia where many people already were not getting enough to eat.
Those nations rely on affordable supplies of wheat and other grains from the Black Sea region to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread and bargain noodles, and they now face the possibility of further political instability.
Other large grain producers like the United States, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina are being closely watched to see if they can quickly ramp up production to fill in the gaps, but farmers face issues like climbing fuel and fertilizer costs exacerbated by the war, drought and supply chain disruptions.
In the Sahel region of Central and West Africa, the disruptions from the war have added to an already precarious food situation caused by COVID-19, conflicts, poor weather and other structural problems, said Sib Ollo, senior researcher for the World Food Program for West and Central Africa in Dakar, Senegal.
“There is a sharp deterioration of the food and nutrition security in the region,” he told reporters, saying 6 million children are malnourished and nearly 16 million people in urban areas are at risk of food insecurity.
Farmers, he said, were particularly worried that they would not be able to access fertilizers produced in the Black Sea region. Russia is a leading global exporter.
“The cost of fertilizers has increased by almost 30% in many places of this region due to the supply disruption that we see provoked by a crisis in Ukraine,” he said.
The World Food Program has appealed for $777 million to meet the needs of 22 million people in the Sahel region and Nigeria over six months, he said.
To address the needs of food-importing countries, the FAO was developing a proposal for a mechanism to alleviate the import costs for the poorest countries, Schmidhuber said. The proposal calls for eligible countries to commit to added investments in their own agricultural productivity to obtain import credits to help soften the blow.
Sask. premier accuses Trudeau of risking trade with India, hiding status of talks
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe listens during a news conference, in Whistler, B.C., on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Moe’s government is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of damaging relations with India and keeping the provinces in the dark about trade talks.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
By Dylan Robertson
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s government is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of damaging relations with India and keeping the provinces in the dark about trade talks.
In a letter Moe released Monday, Saskatchewan Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison argued Trudeau is picking a fight with India for domestic political gain and risking access to one of his province’s most important export markets.
“It is very difficult to come to any other conclusion that your government has once again put its own domestic political interests ahead of the national economic interest — particularly as it relates to exports and trade of western Canadian-produced commodities,” Harrison wrote.
Last month, Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma told The Canadian Press in an interview that Ottawa sought a pause “within the last month” to ongoing talks for an Early Progress Trade Agreement.
The news stunned business leaders, and Harrison wrote that his peers have had a “complete lack of updates” on the negotiations since at least late July.
“It is unacceptable to our government that we first heard of a pause in the EPTA negotiations through the media one week ago, and have received no explanation from (the) Government of Canada subsequent to that,” reads Harrison’s letter, dated Sept. 8.
“Clearly, what your government has done has put the already strained Canada-India relationship in even further peril after some improvement following the prime minister’s disastrous trip to India in 2018,” he wrote, a reference to Trudeau being mocked for wearing traditional outfits and for inviting a convicted terrorist to a reception he hosted in India.
Harrison added that provinces and territories ought to be present in the negotiations, saying this has been done in talks for past trade deals. Harrison also claimed that Trade Minister Mary Ng had not replied to a late July letter seeking an update on the negotiations.
The Liberals have given no clear reason why they ordered a pause in the trade talks, and Ng’s office said she would be providing a statement in the late afternoon in response to Harrison’s letter.
“We know the negotiations around free trade are long and complex, and I won’t say any more,” Trudeau told reporters last Friday in Singapore.
Saskatchewan makes up roughly a third of Canada’s exports to India, amounting to more than $1 billion per year. The trade includes commodities such as lentils, which India has occasionally blocked or delayed as it tinkers with pest-control policies.
Trudeau briefly met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi this weekend, and India’s external affairs ministry said Modi expressed strong concerns to Trudeau about “anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada,” particularly Sikh separatists who want to carve out a state they call Khalistan from India.
The Indian readout made no mention of themes Ottawa included in its summary of the meeting, such as economic growth, support for lower-income countries and reforming global financial institutions.
Trudeau told reporters that he had concerns about foreign interference from any state, including India, and that Canadians of any origin have a right to free speech.
India has long accused Canada of harbouring extremists, while Ottawa has continually maintained that freedom of speech means groups can voice political opinions if they don’t use violence.
Tensions escalated this spring over a series of incidents, including with posters referring to India’s diplomats in Canada as “killers” and seeking their home addresses.
Ng is set to lead a trade mission to India next month with Canadian businesses.
Human Rights Watch says the Modi government has overseen a “serious regression in human rights and constitutional protections,” with attacks on Muslims and other minorities met with impunity and restrictions on journalists.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2023.
Canadian innovation beats EU precaution in agriculture sustainability
From the MacDonald Laurier Institute
By Stuart Smyth
Canada should learn from, not follow, the EU’s agriculture policy errors
The world needs a lot of food to feed eight billion hungry mouths. Even though global production for the most important crops – rice, wheat and maize – reached all-time highs last year, inflation, geopolitical interruptions and misguided policy have disrupted our ability to make food abundant and affordable for everyone.
Crop breeding, more efficient fertilizer and chemical use, and investments in farming equipment and technology offer tried and true strategies for increasing production while enhancing sustainability and reducing GHG emissions.
The European Union is rejecting these proven strategies through policies that dramatically reduce fertilizer and chemical use and ban modern crop breeding technologies. Regrettably, Canada’s federal government is looking at the European approach as a model for its emissions reduction plans. Canadians must reject the ideologically driven, counterproductive policies pursued in the European Union and must insist on science and outcome-driven policies to promote a strong, sustainable agricultural sector that can help satisfy the world’s growing needs.
Innovation is fundamental to modern societies and economies. Governments constantly encourage innovation and enact policies to incentivize investment into the research and development required to bring new products and processes to market. In recent years, environmental sustainability has been a primary concern and Canadian agriculture has been at the forefront of sustainable innovation. Fundamentally, sustainability in agriculture means maximizing efficiency: producing more pounds of crop per acre of land for each pound of input (seed, fertilizer, pesticides, labour) applied.
Prior to the widespread adoption of modern crop technologies, all crop and food production was done through what are now known as organic production practices. With organic production the only way to produce more food is to use more land. However, beginning in 1960, food production became decoupled from increased land use, increasing by 390% while using only 10% more land. Innovations in crop breeding technologies such as GM crops (genetically modified), fertilizer and chemical use, and farm industrialization have all contributed to this increasingly sustainable food production.
This increase in productivity has allowed the world’s population to flourish from just 3 billion people in 1960 to 8 billion today. Although the global agricultural sector is a significant source of greenhouse gases, total emissions have remained flat since 2000 even as production increased, and the sector’s share of global emissions has declined.
Despite this incredible success story, modern agriculture is often viewed with suspicion, particularly in the European Union. They have incorporated precaution-based regulations which dramatically reduce fertilizer and chemical use and ban modern crop breeding technologies. Presently they are proposing to triple organic production, from 8% of current land to 25%, by 2030, as part of what’s known as their “Farm to Fork” strategy to reduce agricultural GHG emissions.
Inevitably, the strategy will not necessarily reduce emissions but will certainly reduce production. Declines are expected: -26% in cereals, -27% in oilseeds, -10% for fruits and vegetables, -14% of beef and -9% of dairy. All of these production decreases will contribute to even higher food prices in the EU, which has been experiencing double digit inflation increases for most of the past year.
By contrast, Canada allows all plant breeding technologies to be used in the development of new varieties, and fertilizer and chemical use is based upon risk appropriate, science-based regulations. The benefits of this approach are unambiguous.
In Saskatchewan, only 3% of crop land requires tillage – mechanical turning of the soil to control for weeds and pests and prepare for seeding. In the European Union, 74% of crop land requires it. Removing tillage from land management practices not only reduces soil erosion and increases moisture conservation; it also reduces the amount of carbon released and increases the sequestration of carbon through continuous crop production. 90% of Saskatchewan farmers indicate that efficient weed control provided by the use of glyphosate increased sustainability in their practices, and 73% said production of herbicide tolerant canola, which is predominantly GM, did.
An assessment of EU agricultural GHG emissions concluded that had genetically modified crops been adopted there in a timely fashion, total EU agricultural GHG emissions would have been reduced by 7.5%. This amounts to 33 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. At any rate, their reduced yields have left them heavily dependent on imports of GM livestock feed from Brazil and Argentina.
Comparing sustainable agricultural production between the EU and Canada reveals two very different situations. The EU has rejected GM crops due to politics and precaution and as a result still heavily relies on tillage. Canadian farmers have enthusiastically adopted GM crops, virtually eliminating tillage. The EU is proposing additional precaution-based regulations that will further reduce crop and food production. Canadian farmers have demonstrated the ability to produce more food with fewer inputs, while the EU is poised to produce less, with more land requirements.
Opposing paths have been selected in the EU and Canada. The evidence to date confirms that it is Canadian agricultural production that is increasingly sustainable. The government must learn the right lessons from Europe’s mistakes when adopting strategies for reducing emissions from our agricultural sector. Canada should continue to improve sustainability through innovation. Canada should not follow Europe’s failed attempts to reduce emissions by producing less food.
Stuart J. Smyth is Professor & Agri-Food Innovation & Sustainability Enhancement Chair at the University of Saskatchewan.
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