Environment Comes Second to Food Security

BY JIM WEBSTER

Russia and the Ukraine have been vying for the position of the world’s largest grain exporters for some time. This is the Moscow times from 2019:

“Russia has been the global grain exporter top dog for the last three years, but as the agricultural marketing year ended on June 30, it looks like Ukraine has snatched the title back from its rival.”

The problem is, it’s awfully difficult to plant grain when somebody is fighting a major war over the field you planned to be working in. Putin has parked his tanks on your lawn, he’s driving them over your lunch.

So now the quandary, do you want a quick war, over in a month so that the Ukrainians, watched over by their Russian siblings, can plant those fields, so that later in the year the West can grovel to Putin asking him to sell us the grain? Or do you want the Ukrainians to hang on, even give Putin a bloody nose and make him think again about crushing democracies, but then find bread is going to be awfully expensive come this winter? (But look on the bright side, you won’t be able to afford the gas or electric to make toast).

Luckily in the UK we don’t buy much grain from the Ukraine or Russia, but then we don’t buy much gas from Russia but the market was disrupted and our gas supplies became a lot more expensive. The same will probably happen with grain so say CNN Business.

Russia is the world’s top exporter of wheat. Ukraine is also a significant exporter of both wheat and corn. That’s sending prices for grains on a bumpy ride as investors assess the potential for conflict. Interference in shipments of wheat or corn from Russia and Ukraine could exacerbate food inflation, most notably in parts of the world that depend on them for supplies.

Global food prices rose as much as 28% in 2021, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and are expected to continue to climb this year due to persistent supply chain issues.

“Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat and corn and any disruption to its exports would lead to a spike in global prices,” says Ophelia Coutts, a Russia analyst at the global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. “A combination of high food and energy prices will accentuate a cost-of-living crisis and increase the potential for civil unrest in many places, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.”

Let’s be brutally honest about it, given the massive hike in the price of fertilisers and fuel, the price of grain needed to go up, even if Putin wasn’t playing silly beggars on the Dnieper.

But what do we do about it?

Well in the West there is a window. Boris could, probably without parliamentary permission, suspend all environmental schemes that took land out of production. He’d probably have to do it for a fixed period (say two or three years) and he could encourage grain production.

Ideally the Americans and the EU would copy us. Yes it would probably be bad for the environment. Ploughing releases CO2 back into the atmosphere, but look at the bright side, you’d be able to afford to eat next year and we might not see chaos rip through Africa and the Middle East when they can no longer afford bread.

With regard to energy, Boris has got severe problems, not of his own making. A large proportion of a previous generation of our political leaders were gutless nonentities who didn’t have the courage to give us a rational energy policy. Personally I think he should lay a bill before parliament allowing fracking for a fixed term of years. The bill should also lay down strict regulations, to be strictly enforced, as to what you can put down the sewers, then we can use sewage sludge as fertiliser. That way we can still afford to grow the food we require.

Also Rolls Royce are doing sterling work on small nuclear reactors that will serve a whole town. (They’re effectively nuclear sub reactors). This programme should be expedited. Those towns that don’t want one can buy ridiculously expensive gas instead.

The advantage of putting such a bill before parliament is that it will force MPs to make a stand. If they vote against it, when constituents come crying to them because they cannot afford to heat their homes or buy food, then the MP who voted against this can tell them that they can keep warm by basking in the smug moral glow the MP got voting against it.

We’re imposing sanctions that will stop the Russians having access to financial services. Putin can impose sanctions which will mean a lot of the world will have less access to food.

I don’t know about you but I can go a lot longer without dealing with the bank than I can without lunch.

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.