24 May 2023
Academics in Harper Adams University’s Rural Resilience Research Group (3RG) are working to provide analysis of food security issues around the world.
The group is the successor of the Rural Security Research Group (RSRG) that has been operating at Harper Adams for around a decade, with a focus on rural, agricultural and farm crime.
As academics’ research has developed, it became clear the real strength of the team is that it looks beyond the criminal act to consider the impact on the whole farm system and importantly the second and third order effects that emanate from a shock such as mental health and food security.
This widened focus has also seen the team lend its weight to a series of open-source briefings for officials and ministers in Whitehall - the latest of which we reproduce here.
The global grain market remains in a state of flux over the last two weeks as the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) talks, weather and crop condition reports are factored in.
The uncertainty over the BSGI has led to a period of small gains but these have been corrected within a day or so. The market has an expectation of good global supplies which is pressuring the wheat price in a downward direction. The announcement of an extension to the BSGI has again calmed the market. While the grains market is depressed, the world food price index rose in April for the first time in a year. While cereals, dairy and vegetable oils all decreased, the prices we driven up 0.6 per cent by rising meat and sugar prices.
The latest WASDE (World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate) has indicated that global wheat production is forecast to be a record 789.8 MMT in 2023/24, an increase of 1.5 MMT over last year.
There currently is an expectation that there will be larger crops in several countries, including Argentina, Canada, US, China, the EU, and India. Gains though will be partly offset by declines in Australia, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.
However, while this looks positive El Nino is forecast to start in the second half of 2023, likely bringing above average temperature weather just as crops in the northern hemisphere are maturing. There are already issues with the US winter wheat crop, with only 30 per cent being in good/excellent condition. Wildfires have also returned to Western Canada. WASDE also predicts a decline in global grain trade of 5.5MMT, a reflection of increased stockpiling around the world.
Across MENA (Middle East and North Africa) there is a mixed picture. Egypt has started receiving its domestic harvest, with farmers incentivised with increased payments. As a result, Egypt estimates it has 5 months supply stockpiled, between domestic and imported wheat. Morocco is looking at increasing its wheat harvest, possibly up by 20 per cent, while Algeria and Tunisia are facing a smaller yield.
All depends on ongoing weather, and wildfires being kept in check.
While Iraq has built up a substantial wheat stockpile this year, the country faces increasing climate related challenges across the food sector. The food situation in Yemen and Syria is dire, with climate issue compounded by conflict and insecurity, placing much of the population into food insecurity. In Syria alone, 600,000 children are at risk of child stunting. Conflict in Mali has placed 3.8 million people in need of food assistance. Conflict has displaced communities, meaning crops and livestock have been lost and abandoned. In Sudan, the conflict goes on, with the port closed to all but military escorted traffic, meaning some 15.8 million people are facing food insecurity as imports of grains have stopped and domestic food systems have been disrupted. Cyclones impacting Mozambique and Myanmar have caused disruption to food systems leaving millions in food insecure situations.
While the geopolitics of the Black Sea region and conflict has played a large part in the last 12 months’ pricing and availability of food commodities, it is likely we are moving into a period where natural and man-made climatic shocks may come into play across a wide area of the globe.