World Farmers Struggling With Increased Food Demands and Supply Chain Disruptions

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Talk of food shortages and empty shelves has been at the forefront of agricultural discussions around the globe for more than two years as production demands have increased and farmers are scrambling to match the pace.

Aggravating the economic aftershocks of the pandemic and supply chain recovery efforts was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. This dealt another significant blow to global agriculture as the conflict involves two of the top wheat producers.

Further impeding global farmers are the limited availability and inflated price of fertilizer.

Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of fertilizer, which was a part of the U.S. sanctions list until March 24, when the Department of the Treasury removed key agricultural items from the embargo due to critical shortages.

However, the move may prove ineffective since Russia’s deputy secretary of the country’s security council, Dmitry Medvedev, announced on April 1 that Moscow wouldn’t sell agricultural products to countries it deemed as “enemies,” effectively weaponizing key commodities.

Prior to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, or even the pandemic, it became apparent there were weak links in the global food chain.

Back in 2007 food prices skyrocketed due to rising oil costs, explosive demand for corn-based fuels, transportation, financial market speculation, and low grain reserves.

At the time, the director-general of the World Food Programme called the combination a “perfect storm.”

Farmers are now facing a sharp rise in demand for food commodities, which could increase 98 percent by the year 2050. Combined with the pandemic aftermath and war-related sanctions, global agriculture is riding out a new type of storm.

Epoch Times Photo
Farmers harvest with their combines in a wheat field near the village Tbilisskaya, Russia, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Vitaly Timkiv, File)

A Hard Lesson Learned

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed vulnerabilities in the human food supply chain,” Professor Curtis Youngs told The Epoch Times.

Youngs is the M.E. Ensminger Endowed Chair of International Animal Agriculture.

He explained that these vulnerabilities are the reason the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now making investments in small to medium-sized enterprises that process animal-sourced foods.

“When COVID hit, the United States learned that having only a few very large meat processors, although efficient from an individual business perspective, created a vulnerability when one or more of those processors closed temporarily due to worker health issues,” Youngs said.

Ironing out the kinks in the animal-sourced food chain has also proven important in less developed countries, like in Africa and Asia, where streamlined livestock operations are directly linked to greater economic and food security.

The agriculture department invested $3 billion in September 2021 to address challenges and costs associated with market disruptions for commodities and supply chain issues, along with drought and animal health.

During an October 2021 investigation, an associate professor of supply chain management and analytics at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Erkut Sonmez, said production challenges and supply chain disruptions weren’t going to dissipate. He explained that capacity limitations in the food supply chain exist from start to finish.

“The disruptions to the agricultural supply chains are more apparent and important compared to other supply chains.

“On one side, we have a shortage of food supply while people are looking for food, and on the other, we have food actually rotting or going bad in containers in some parts of the world,” Sonmez explained.

He added that labor shortages —especially in fresh produce—transportation problems, and raw material shortages on the production end are at the core of the problems in attempting to ramp up food production in the wake of the pandemic.

Though the compounding effect of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is not to be underestimated, especially in nations that already suffer food insecurity, according to Youngs.

Africa in particular has a heavy dependence on imported grains from Russia and Ukraine.

“To me, it is quite unsettling that a human decision to engage in war is affecting so many innocent people,” Youngs said.

Epoch Times Photo
A baker prepares Egyptian traditional flatbread at a bakery in Cairo, Egypt, on March 2, 2022. The Russian tanks and missiles attacking Ukraine also are threatening the food supply and livelihoods of people in Europe, Africa, and Asia who rely on the vast, fertile farmlands of the Black Sea region. (Nariman El-Mofty/AP Photo)

Small Farming Could Be Key

Fields of less than one hectare represent 70 percent of the estimated 600 million farms in the world. Some experts believe this could become a key factor for increasing global food production and mitigating supply chain disruptions. Additionally, small-scale farming plays an important social and economic role, creating jobs in rural areas and helping reduce poverty in communities.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 81.3 percent of rural farms belong to families, which accounts for more than 60 million jobs. The main source of employment in rural areas is smallholder farms.

Small farms also account for 78 percent of agro-business in India, which is one of the world’s top food-producing nations.

The United States, China, and Brazil are also among the largest food generators.

Last year, the USDA provided $700 million in economic relief to small farmers in the United States. Small family farms, where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and relatives, comprised nearly 91 percent of U.S. farms as of 2021.

In countries like the United States, smallholder farmers often have outside income that offers unique advantages over their counterparts in less economically developed countries, according to Youngs.

“They can often afford to invest in production practices that enable them to target specialty, niche, markets such as the direct-to-restaurant trade or online direct-to-consumer markets,” he explained.

Localized supply chains created by family farmers come with the added benefit of lower transportation costs, less labor required on the production end, and help mitigate supply risk.

Autumn Spredemann


Autumn is a South America-based reporter covering primarily Latin American issues for The Epoch Times.

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