After three months of seemingly never-ending negotiations, on the 22nd of July, Russia finally agreed to allow the export of more than 20 million tons of grain that have been stuck in Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea. This compromise marks an important step in combating rising food prices and alleviating shortages, as many countries rely heavily on wheat, barley, corn, and sunflower exports from Ukraine, especially those countries located in the Horn of Africa. Many of these countries are experiencing historic droughts and have been gravely affected by the disruptions in essential food exports.
Though these negotiations demonstrate an element of progress towards easing global food price increases and food shortages, it may be weeks until the exports reach the countries that need them most. The global consequences of the conflict’s disruption of food exports not only illustrate how reliant many countries are on essential food imports but also draw attention to the lack of self-sufficiency many countries have in regard to providing sustenance to their citizens. While importing certain foods that are unable to grow in certain climates is mandatory in differing countries, teaching citizens to grow their own food as alternatives to those that are imported not only encourages self-sufficiency and can help lift people out of poverty, but also has promising prospects for peacebuilding.
Often in conflict-heavy countries, citizens are forced to travel long distances to neighboring countries in order to purchase food, fuel, and medicine, as conflict disrupts their country’s ability to create and distribute these essential items. These long journeys are often taken by the male leaders of the household, leaving women and children vulnerable to assaults and violence. As fighting continues, infrastructure is destroyed, and prices soar as local farmers are unable to cultivate and sell their products to the public.
This cycle not only harms innocent citizens through rising prices and creating more poverty but also perpetuates the conflict. As seen with the disruptions in the global food market due to the invasion of Ukraine, little has been done to ensure that developing countries that rely heavily on food imports can produce alternatives in their own country. Without the knowledge of how to cultivate certain foods, those in countries experiencing conflict and those greatly affected by disruptions in the global food market are further disenfranchised. There are also grave environmental consequences of exporting foods rather than having them produced in one’s own country, from using harmful fertilizers to the greenhouse gas emissions created by transporting food long distances. The effects of conflict on food production and exportation are often ignored, and many countries have yet to institute comprehensive programs to ensure that their citizens are protected from the tumultuous changes in the global food market.
Initiatives aiming to help communities rebuild infrastructure and teaching local citizens how to sustainably produce their own food in Venezuela and Mozambique have been successful in lowering rates of conflict in communities and encouraging self-sufficiency in food production. By teaching local citizens how to properly grow their own food, they are not as reliant on food imports and thus are not as gravely affected by fluctuations of the global food market, as we are currently witnessing in many countries around the world.
In Venezuela, many members of indigenous communities near the Colombian border were forced to go to Colombia in order to obtain essential items such as food and medicine. These long journeys are often taken by the men in the household, leaving the women vulnerable to assault and encouraging young people to join armed groups.
The UN and local women’s networks helped start over 660 community gardens in the border states of Zulia, Táchira, and Barinas in order to teach women and young people how to grow certain essential crops using sustainable methods and easily attainable ingredients for fertilizers in order to become more self-sufficient. They also created local markets where farmers could sell their produce, therefore adding capital to the local economy. These community gardens have not only mitigated the local population’s reliance on foreign food but have also become a lesson in peacebuilding, as people are taught to farm to make money and are less likely to join armed groups. Similarly in Mozambique, the disarmament process created under the Maputo Accord in 2019 has found success in bolstering the local economy and keeping people from joining armed groups by growing the agricultural sector of the country. As the agricultural sector is prone to government intervention, initiatives aimed at teaching former fighters to farm and sell their own produce has lessened conflict in the country, helped citizens become more self-sufficient, and limited their reliance on imported food.
According to the International Rescue Committee’s East Africa Emergency Director Shashwat Saraf, “over 18 million people in East Africa are facing [extreme hunger]” after the blockade of Ukrainian grain exports. The issue of a tumultuous global food market that is prone to disturbance from conflict affects all areas of the world, but impacts conflict-prone and developing countries especially hard. Teaching local communities to sustainably farm not only has the potential to make these communities less vulnerable to price increases and food shortages, but also is an important lesson in promoting peace.
While the agreement to allow shipments of grain from ports in Southern Ukraine will alleviate the current ills of global food market for countries that rely on the imports most, helping to build local food networks and support farmers is integral to ensuring that another global food crisis due to conflict does not occur.
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