As American farmers gear up for the 2022 planting season, we face a formidable list of challenges. With volatile markets, rising costs and shortages of major inputs, growers are putting this year’s crops in the ground amid an environment of uneasy uncertainty.
At least they aren’t dealing with the threat of an invading army.
On the other side of the globe, farmers in Ukraine face the very real possibility that war could keep them from getting this year’s crops planted or harvested. This country about the size of Texas is one of the world’s most prolific grain producers, but now tanks instead of tractors are roaming its fields as Russia continues relentless attacks.
Ukraine is a top 10 exporter of corn, wheat, sunflower oil and other commodities, but no one really knows just how much of the country’s planned acreage will be sown. Fuel and fertilizer are scarce. So is labor. Many workers have either fled or joined the military. The United Nations estimates that up to 30% of Ukrainian farmland is in a war zone.
The conflict sparks concerns about global food shortages. After being mostly flat for five years, world hunger rose by about 18% during the pandemic to between 720 and 811 million people, according to the U.N. By disrupting the world food supply, the Ukraine war could add up to 13.1 million more people to that number.
The situation also has reinforced the important role American farmers play in humanitarian efforts around the world. Food security is tied to national security. That’s one of the big reasons the United States has long been a powerhouse in the fight against hunger. In fact, our nation provides half of all global food aid.
American farmers have played a key role in these efforts and continue to do so. The USDA, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other government entities partner with farm organizations and the private sector to source agricultural commodities and produce nutritionally rich foods to help alleviate hunger worldwide. One example of these activities was highlighted at the recent Commodity Classic in New Orleans. A panel presentation by the American Soybean Association’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) addressed farmers’ contributions to global food security and American diplomacy.
Missouri’s own Adam Thomas of Tiger Soy in Mexico, Mo., and SEMO Milling in Scott City was part of this engaging conversation. His companies are among many that process corn and soybeans that eventually make their way to foreign markets, increasing exports for U.S. farmers. Specifically, Thomas discussed the production of “Super Cereal,” a high-protein corn-soy blend, and soy flour, which is used in ready-to-use therapeutic food packets. U.S. farmers supply 100% of the corn and soybeans contained in these products, which are distributed through the U.N.’s World Food Program and other international organizations to the neediest populations.
Thomas pointed out that these food packages are imprinted with the American flag—telling the world that U.S. farmers are here to help.
“That’s diplomacy,” he said, “and it’s happening in the most important way. If we don’t do it, who will?”
While there is definitely a need for aid to Ukraine right now, the war’s impact will reach much further. Some 26 countries—many of which are already food insecure—source at least half of their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine. The unstable market means the upward trend in food prices is likely to continue and more people will face food insecurity.
In a March 4 letter, Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, urged the USDA to prioritize its agricultural export assistance and food aid programs to help supply markets left unfulfilled as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Specifically, he called for the use of the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, named after a Missouri representative who was a leader in hunger relief during his 15 years in Congress. The trust allows USAID’s Office of Food for Peace to purchase U.S. commodities to donate in emergencies abroad.
“Doing so will help alleviate a greater humanitarian crisis than has already been caused,” Sen. Moran wrote, “and will help foster political stability in food-insecure countries.”
During the WISHH panel at the Commodity Classic, the World Food Program’s Rebecca Middleton told farmers in the audience that their work to feed the world is more important than ever. I agree. Even when faced with difficulties at home, U.S. farmers should continue to care about global food security. Tanks and bombs are blatant killers, but poor nutrition is just as deadly. It’s the underlying cause of one out of every three deaths of young children in developing countries. And maintaining peace is far more difficult wherever food shortages contribute to conflict.
As one of the most agriculturally advanced countries in the world, the United States is well positioned to help. Providing food aid is something we can definitely do—and should do. Let’s take every possible step to get food supplies and nutrition assistance to those in greatest need. And let’s all continue to pray for peace.
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