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Tyler McCann: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is affecting global food security—Here’s how Canada can help

Commentary

The invasion of Ukraine should change how Canadians think about global food security. Now more than ever, food producers need to think about how they can boost productivity to meet the critical need for available, accessible, affordable food. 

Consumers around the world were feeling the impact of higher food prices even before Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine. In Canada, prices increased more than five percent from January 2021 to 2022. However, that increase pales compared to what is being experienced around the world. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Food Price Index went from 113 to 135 in that same time, reaching a new all-time high. Adjusted for inflation, food prices are at their highest since the index was created in 1961.Global food prices rise in January https://reliefweb.int/report/world/global-food-prices-rise-january-enarruzh#:~:text=The%20FAO%20Food%20Price%20Index,of%20commonly%2Dtraded%20food%20commodities.

Driven by concerns over tight supplies and a possible invasion, the Index climbed higher in February, and it will likely continue to reach new records for the foreseeable future. This is incredibly painful in the developing world where families spend 30 percent or more of their income on food. In Canada, that number is 10 percent.

The Russian invasion will likely have a significant impact on global food security. There is an immediate need to feed millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine. The invasion, the blockage of the Black Sea, and economic sanctions will effectively make 80 percent of the global trade of sunflower oil, 35 percent of wheat, 25 percent of barley, and 20 percent of corn out of the supply equation in nations that desperately need to import that food.

Intervention from the World Food Programme, governments, and philanthropy efforts will help feed refugees. These efforts will divert focus and resources away from the one-in-four people,“Moderate food security includes those who struggle or worry about the ability to access or afford a healthy, nutritious balanced diet, not only those who struggle to meet their energy needs.” https://ourworldindata.org/hunger-and-undernourishment#moderate-food-insecurity globally, who are moderately to severely food insecure.

The future of food will help address food security in the long term. That future will likely include solutions like vertical farming“Vertical farming — the practice of growing food in stacked trays — isn’t new; innovators have been growing crops indoors since Roman times. What is new is the efficiency of LED lighting and advanced robotics that allow vertical farms today to produce 20 times more food on the same footprint as is possible in the field.” https://news.uoguelph.ca/2021/02/three-technologies-poised-to-change-food-and-the-planet/ and cellular agriculture.“Cellular agriculture is the field of growing animal agricultural products directly from cell cultures instead of using livestock. The primary research in the field has revolved around growing meats (beef, pork, poultry, and fish) as well as animal products (dairy and egg white) in cell cultures.” https://www.cellag.ca/cellagabout#:~:text=Cellular%20agriculture%20is%20the%20field,egg%20white)%20in%20cell%20cultures. It should match production to a region’s potential. It must include more food being produced in Africa and the Middle East. 

Today, there is an urgent need for more food. 

As an immediate measure, Europe and the United States are considering taking land out of conservation set-asides and bringing it back into production. There are increasing calls for the EU to rewrite its Farm to Fork strategy with a more explicit focus on boosting production to increase self-sufficiency.

Canada has fewer tools available to boost its already high agriculture productivity, especially in the short term. We do not have significant amounts of land set aside that could be brought back into production. Planting intentions are primarily set for 2022, and we do not hold meaningful reserves.

That does not mean that there is nothing we can do to address both acute and chronic food global security challenges.  

To start, Canada needs to ensure that it does not reduce its agricultural productivity. Efforts to increase sustainably, such as the federal nitrogen fertilizer emission reduction target, need to carefully consider their consequences on productivity.“In December 2020, the federal government set a national fertilizer emissions reduction target of 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030.” https://fertilizercanada.ca/our-focus/stewardship/emissions-reduction-initiative/#:~:text=In%20December%202020%2C%20the%20federal,below%202020%20levels%20by%202030. There also needs to be an examination of farm input supply chains, including fertilizers, to ensure they are reliable. Canada should identify opportunities to boost domestic production of key inputs and implement policies needed to enable it.

Canada should also increase investments in research and encourage innovation to further boost productivity. There is a critical need for more public and private investment in productivity-boosting areas, including developing new plant varieties, improving plant and animal efficiency, and reducing waste. 

Canada should also support international efforts to boost food production in regions that are not meeting their full potential.

Ultimately, Canada’s agri-food system needs to think more globally about its role in addressing food security. Exports should no longer just be considered for their economic benefits. They play a more important role by increasing the availability and affordability of food around the world.

Not only is increasing food security the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective, but it is also the right thing to do from a security perspective, too. The last time the FAO price index was this high, there were riots around the world, leading, in part, to the Arab Spring. Protests have already started again in Kazakhstan and the Middle East.“‘This area of the Black Sea plays a major role in the global food system, exporting at least 12 percent of the food calories traded in the world,’ said Mr. Houngbo. ‘Forty percent of wheat and corn exports from Ukraine go to the Middle East and Africa, which are already grappling with hunger issues, and where further food shortages or price increases could stoke social unrest.'” https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/03/1113332

Increasing food prices and disruptions in food availability risk spreading the crisis far beyond Ukraine’s borders. The invasion of Ukraine is changing how we think about the world. It also needs to change how Canadians think about food security and our country’s role in feeding the world.

Stephen Nagy: Russia or the West? Which way China tilts will have seismic geopolitical consequences

Commentary

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has placed China and its leadership in an awkward position. Its closest ally has invaded a sovereign state and violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity using overwhelming military force.

These actions completely contradict Beijing’s longstanding Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. These principles include mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

Beijing also continues to walk a tight rope in terms of its position vis-à-vis the invasion. It abstained from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.“The resolution demands that Russia ‘immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.'” Accidentally leaked internal media directives have shed light as to the Chinese government’s position on the invasion stressing “not post anything unfavourable to Russia or pro-Western” to ensure that Russia will support China’s position over Taiwan.

Furthermore, Xi Jinping’s warm welcome of Vladimir Putin at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and the signing of the Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development, raises uncomfortable questions for China. Did it know about the invasion? Is China facilitating the invasion or did Xi Jinping and his leadership misread Putin?

Russia now faces unprecedented and coordinated sanctions against its leadership, its oligarchs, and ordinary citizens. Its banks are mostly banned from using the SWIFT system, Western businesses are voluntary pulling out or refraining from doing business with Russia, and the Ruble has collapsed.  In short, the coordinated financial and economic sanctions deployed against Russia have devastated its economy.  

If China were to provide economic assistance or military aid directly or indirectly to Russia, it would be subject to secondary sanctions and other consequences as articulated by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.“There are additional steps that we will continue to take, additional targets of oligarchs that we are developing, additional measures to tighten the vice – the economic vice that we have put around the Russian economy. We’ll continue to do that with our allies and partners and we will see the results. As we’ve seen, the Russian stock market hasn’t opened in two weeks and they’ve just announced it won’t open because, if it were to open, you would see an immediate cratering of the stock market showing just how much damage to the Russian economy has already occurred.”

China’s national and foreign priorities continue to be a stable and sustainable socio-economic development at home and a stable regional environment. Russia’s action has upended that balance causing a cascade of negative consequences for China.

Wheat prices have increased more than 5 per cent to $US9.41 a bushel in European and U.S. trade following the invasion. Other commodities such as Russian potash, aluminium, and nickel have also increased in price in the wake of the invasion. These exacerbate existing headwinds on a Chinese economy which was already slowing because of structural issues and the periodic Covid-19 outbreaks and the subsequent large lockdowns. 

Reputationally, China was already seen by many of its neighbours as a revisionist power that “intends to turn Southeast Asia into its sphere of influence.” In South Korea, China has surpassed Japan as the most unfavourable country with similar negative sentiments found in the 2021 GENRON poll in Japan.“The percentage of Japanese respondents with a ‘Poor’ impression of China has seen no improvement over the last and currently stands at 90.9%. This number has remained high since the Senkaku Islands dispute flared up in 2013.” Its position on Russia’s invasion has not made it any friends.

China and the Party do not agree with Putin’s war, but they understand Putin’s rationale for the invasion and grievances towards the West, the U.S., alliances and NATO expansion, and U.S. hypocrisy. 

China and Xi Jinping could help themselves a lot by tilting away from Russia for the West. As Brian Wong recently argues in his essay in the Diplomat ‘Only Nixon Could Go to China’; Only Xi Can Go to America?, Xi visiting the U.S. and explicitly standing against Putin’s naked aggression would demonstrate that the Chinese Communist Party’s China has limits to its interests in changing the international order.

The problem is Xi Jinping is not a strong enough leader to do this. He has made too many enemies in his anti-corruption drive,“There were other signs in late 2017 that Xi was clearing the way to indefinite tenure. Two up-and-coming officials whose career tracks had positioned them as potential successors to Xi — Hu Chunhua and Sun Zhengcai — were both eliminated from the running. Sun was detained for alleged corruption in August that year, while two months later, Hu failed to win promotion to the Politburo inner circle at the 19th Party Congress, removing him from immediate consideration for the top job.” organically manifested and carefully curated patriotic nationalism is widespread, and Xi does not possess the authority or requisite leadership skills to stand up to nationalists, hardcore neo-Maoists and others. 

In a recent Chinese language article called “The Ark and China”, he was heavily criticized as “lacking in confidence, and comes across as a woefully incompetent country bumpkin—descriptions that are hard to square with the ruthless, Machiavellian strategist that he supposedly also is.”

Seen alongside credible insiders such as Cai Xia, a dissident and former professor at the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and recently former Harvard–Yenching Institute scholar Huang Wansheng who criticised the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and top standing committee members, Xi Jinping, despite carefully attempting to cultivate authority, lacks the political capital to tilt away from the damaging Sino-Russian relationship to the West, a shift that would help stabilize the Chinese economy and potentially allow for a positive shift away from a securitized to more constructive and cooperative U.S.-China strategic competition.

As a result of these realities, we will see China continue to:

1) Support the Sino-Russo relationship without endorsing Putin’s invasion

2) China will position itself vis-à-vis Russia to maximize its energy and other imports at rock bottom prices

3) China will harden its economy and technology by a further selective diversification away from the West

4) After the 20th Party Congress and the 2023 National People’s Congress, China will work hard to soften relations with key U.S. partners including Canada, Australia, Japan, etc. to dismantle the growing number of states that are collectively crafting their China policy with a revisionists China in mind.  

Hemmed in by nationalism, political enemies, and a lack of political authority, China and Xi Jinping’s unwillingness to stand by its Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and join the international community in condemning Russia will further accelerate the shift towards a bipolar international order.

The implications will include the bifurcation of institutions and standards. This will shape governance, civil society, and the use of technology such as AI, quantum computing, and cyberspace to maximize regime security and sustainability.