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Susan O'Rourke | April 14, 2022

field of wheat

This month, UNC World View has been paying particular attention to the factors impacting the global supply chain. At the 2022 UNC World View Richardson Lecture, experts spoke about the interconnectedness of global trade and the ways educators are preparing to discuss it with their students. Stephanie Morgan, a mathematics teacher in Haywood County, noted that educators are at the forefront of helping students interpret the connections between their classroom learning and the world at large. Educators may also be looking to help their students understand current events and the impact of Russia’s invasion on Ukraine on the distribution of food and agricultural products in the United States and around the world.

There has been an increased focus on three key agricultural products whose distribution has been disrupted by the conflict in Ukraine.

  1. Wheat: You may have heard a lot about wheat production recently. That’s because “Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly 30% of the global wheat trade,” according to World Population Review. The disruption to the production of wheat sheds light on how wheat produced in these regions supports milling industries and provides essential nutrients for people around the globe. NYT reporter Jack Nicas recently shared on the NYT podcast The Daily that: “there are dozens of countries, especially in the Middle East and Africa, that are most at risk here. And that’s in part because that region is geographically close to Ukraine and Russia. So they import a lot of wheat from those countries. And wheat is important culturally. It’s a staple food in the region.”Researchers in the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA further warn in the 2022 International Agricultural Trade Report that: “Low-income consumers in import-dependent countries will face the greatest hardships as sharply higher prices may result in reduced purchases and reduced caloric intake.”

    In response to this instability, the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA explains, some countries are restricting the agricultural products they typically ship abroad. They note that: “As of April 5, 2022, 11 countries have implemented export bans, including Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Serbia, Turkey, North Macedonia, and Egypt, for products ranging from wheat, wheat flour, barley, rye, corn, and oilseeds, to lentils, fava beans, and pasta.”

  2. Sunflower Oil: Ukraine and Russia account for the majority of sunflower products, from oil to seeds. TIME magazine explains that Ukraine is “responsible for up to 46% of sunflower-seed and safflower oil production, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.” Russia makes up “about 23% of the world’s supply.” In the United States, the impact might be less severe than in European countries, for example. TIME reports that “the vast majority of sunflower oil used by American companies….is manufactured domestically” and other countries like India and China “may start turning to U.S. manufacturers.” Nevertheless, the decreased supply may still affect prices and U.S. producers may still be impacted by larger global supply chain issues.
  3. Fertilizers: Fertilizers have become more expensive and limited in supply recently. Researchers with the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA are concerned that these changes will have a ripple effect on other industries. For example, Jack Nicas of the NYT explains that, as lower amounts of fertilizers reduce the quality of feed crops, ranchers may produce less meat. Consumers in the U.S might see higher meat prices as a result.


Food Security and Peace

Researchers have also cautioned about the security issues that could arise from these disruptions.  A report produced by the World Food Programme (WFP) indicates that between 33 and 47 million more people in the 81 countries with WFP operations could experience “acute hunger” as an indirect result of the conflict in Ukraine. Experts are concerned that food insecurity and rising costs could fuel additional conflicts.

To combat increasing food security, the WFP recommends “[addressing] the four root causes: conflicts, climate crises, the consequences of COVID-19 and costs.” Their recommendations point to the interconnectedness of global supply chains, trade policies, food security, and the wellbeing of people around the world.

Teaching Resources and Additional Reading: