After being postponed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Economic Forum in Davos finally took place. The central agenda of world leaders and business leaders revolved around four points, climate change, rising inflation, Russia's special military operation and how it aggravated the energy and food crisis.
Constantly during the forum meetings, the problem of fertiliser shortages and food insecurity was attributed solely to the Russian military operation in Ukraine. The truth is that the price of wheat doubled between March 2020 and February 2022. China announced a local harvest in February 2022, which impacted prices. Finally, with the Russian military operation, the rise was aggravated by another 50%.
After the Davos meeting, it is clear that world leaders will continue to provide arms supplies to Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia. The answers to how to prevent growing the number of 276 million people already suffering from severe and acute food insecurity are unclear.
Agricultural producers worldwide are looking for options that will allow them to continue their activities at the lowest possible cost. In Zimbabwe and parts of the US, for example, there has been a return to the use of manure. Others reduce the amount of plant food they generally use or have switched to crops that require less potash, urea or phosphate.
Some of the other measures implemented are that, in the face of rising fertiliser prices, droughts, heat waves, and floods, some countries have decided to restrict their grain and plant food exports to prioritise their people.
India, which produces 13.7% of the world's wheat, and is also a significant consumer, has decided to limit its exports. The country has long faced problems of food insecurity, which it has tried to counter with imports and increased production. The aftermath of the conflict assured that around 10 million tonnes of wheat would be exported by 2022. The heatwave that recently soared to 50°C has reduced field and crop yields, prompting the Directorate General of Foreign Trade to impose an export ban.
China, one of the world's leading exporters of phosphate and urea, also limited the number of fertiliser exports it makes. Rising energy prices have made plant food production more expensive, and heavy flooding has led to the closure of some major factories.
One of the areas most affected by the lack of fertilisers, Latin America, has begun to look for options for self-sufficiency. Bolivia, which produces between 1,600 and 1,700 tonnes of fertiliser per day, has said that it hopes to build two plants specifically for local fertiliser production and export in the next few years. The first plant aims at supplying Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina, while the second would exclusively provide Brazil.
Russia's special military operation has been one factor aggravating the food and fertiliser crisis, but it has not been the cause. Food prices had already started to rise in 2020, before the conflict. The climate factor plays a significant role in the price increases, with continuous droughts and floods reducing and damaging crop yields. Western sanctions on Russia’s exports hit prices more than was estimated initially.