Ukraine halts export of key foodstuffs as concerns mount over EU food security

The EU's vegetable oil association (FEDIOL) warned on Friday that the roughly 200,000 tonnes per month supply of sunflower seed oil from Ukraine has stopped being shipped to European ports. [SHUTTERSTOCK/MASHKEVYCH]

Ukraine’s government has introduced export licensing of key foodstuffs including wheat, corn, poultry meat, and sunflower oil, according to the Ukrainian news agency Interfax Ukraine, as EU farmers sound the alarm over food security across the bloc.

The government resolution, which was published on Sunday (6 March), specifies that the decision to introduce zero quotas for exports is extended to corn, oats, buckwheat, millet, sugar and salt suitable for human consumption, subject to licensing in 2022.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Sunday that the government had decided to limit the export of a number of socially important goods and the raw materials from which they are produced, Interfax Ukraine reported.

Ukraine alone accounts for 19% of EU wheat imports and 13% of oilseed imports. Together with Russia, the two agricultural powerhouses provide over a third of the world’s wheat and barley, as well as 17% corn and over 50% of sunflower oil and seeds.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has therefore sent shockwaves through two of the world’s staple grain markets, with wheat prices skyrocketing last week to their highest level in 14 years.

Some places, such as Albania, have already warned that this could see bread and other grain-based staple goods off the menu.

Bread could be off the menu in Albania amid Ukraine-Russia war

The price of wheat is set to rise in Albania due to sanctions imposed on Russia, when reserves are already at a low, according to the President of the Association of Flour Processors, Adi Haxhiymeri.

Albania imports around 47% of its …

This has sparked a number of emergency contingency meetings over ways in which the bloc can ensure food security.

For example, the membership of the Commission’s expert group on the European food security crisis preparedness and response mechanism (EFSCM), outlined as part of the Commission’s Green Deal objectives, has now been confirmed and the first meeting of the group is set to take place on Wednesday (9 March).

‘Food shield’

Meanwhile, EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA released a statement on Sunday stressing that Europe must equip its agriculture with a “food shield” to face the fallout of a combination of the war together with the looming challenge of climate change.

“This war which affects Europe will have worldwide repercussions for several years to come,” the statement warns, adding that “most productions will be directly or indirectly impacted”.

Stressing that exceptional situations call for exceptional measures, the association called for “comprehensive, robust, out-of-the-box measures” from the Commission to match the scale of the challenge the sector faces, adding that speed is of the essence.

The EU’s vegetable oil association (FEDIOL) warned on Friday that the roughly 200,000 tonnes per month supply of sunflower seed oil from Ukraine has stopped being shipped to European ports.

Between 35 and 45% of sunflower oil refined in the EU comes from Ukraine and there is no immediate solution to the disruption in sunflower seed oil, as it is unclear if and how trade will be able to resume, continued the association.

Ukraine war puts EU food security into spotlight, agri sector told to brace for impact

The war in Ukraine has thrown the thorny issue of food security in the EU to the fore as the European Commission warns the EU agri-food sector to brace itself for impact, both now and in the long term.

Food security vs. sustainability – a false dichotomy?

The invasion of Ukraine has thrown up old questions over whether the Commission’s policies, which were unveiled more than two years and a half ago and aim to make the European food system more sustainable via a set of stringent targets, need to be revised.

Speaking after a special meeting with the EU-27 agriculture ministers on Wednesday, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski conceded that the EU “need[s] to keep a close eye on the objectives of these policies in the context of food security”.

“We don’t want to toss these strategies aside, we don’t want to call them into question,” explained the Commissioner. “But there are other elements which need to be looked at again, given the current situation,” he continued.

For its part, think-tank Farm Europe called on the Commission to “fundamentally revise” its proposals on the EU’s flagship food and farming policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, and its biodiversity strategy in a statement on Monday, saying these “frontally counter our food sovereignty and world food security”.

However, for COPA President Christiane Lambert, pitting these two dimensions against each other is “unproductive”.

“As with energy, we [the agricultural sector] strongly believe that it is possible to strengthen our strategic autonomy while continuing to make progress on sustainability,” she said.

That being said, the farmers’ association sees the need for a “paradigm shift” in the way Brussels thinks about agriculture, starting with the objectives set out in the Farm to Fork.

Concretely, the organisation is asking to be able to cultivate all available land in 2022 to compensate for the blockage of Russian and Ukrainian production, as opposed to leaving some parts of the land fallow or earmarked for biodiversity, as is set out in the strategy.

The issue will be discussed at a meeting of the EU-27 agriculture ministers later this month (21 March), but member states already proposed to the Commission last week to set aside agricultural land to be used for the production of protein crops.

Meanwhile, Irish Agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue will convene an emergency meeting with farming associations on Tuesday to discuss potential food security concerns where stakeholders will discuss potential measures requesting that all farmers plant grain crops on their land.

EU sanctions on Belarus target key fertiliser amid rising input prices

The EU has banned all imports from Belarus of potash, an important fertiliser that is largely deficient in Europe, in a move that puts further pressure on the agriculture sector already struggling with an input price hike.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna and Nathalie Weatherald]

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