The conflict between Russia and the Ukraine has Caribbean islands facing varying challenges. The devastating human elements of war have had unavoidable global implications for global food security. As small island developing states, many are largely import dependent for food and grain and remain extremely vulnerable to these external shocks. No group stands to suffer more from the fall out than the poor and marginalized who were already feeling the financial brunt of the pandemic. For those island nations that import more than 60 per cent of their food supplies, there are massive implications surrounding their economic growth and the ability to feed their population and distribute food equally.
According to the results of the fourth Caribbean COVID-19 Food Security and Livelihoods Impact Survey administered by CARICOM, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization in February 2022, 88 per cent of people in these island nations have reported changes in their shopping behaviour, while 93 per cent have reported an increase in observed food prices. Particularly in Trinidad and Tobago where citizens have already seen sharp increases in food prices forcing them to reserve their spending for necessities.
The Caribbean saw unequaled increases in food insecurity in 2020 and 2021 due to the social and economic disruptions provoked by the COVD-19 Pandemic, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean. The additional price uncertainty brought on by the conflict in the Ukraine continues to affect the most vulnerable in a region where so many countries still depend too heavily on food imports. If predictions hold true that oil prices could rise as high as US$130 per barrel, there will be implications for the cost of shipping, the cost of raw materials and the cost of finished goods— amidst the context of preexisting supply chain issues and inflated prices. This will have an intensely frustrating impact on an already critical situation in the region. The pressures that will be brought on by rising oil prices, additional supply chain breaks, and further increases in input prices such as fertilizer could have a detrimental impact on our food systems and food security.
In terms of inputs, with Russia being one of the world’s largest exporters of fertilizer and related raw materials, including urea, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) (NPKs), ammonia, Urea Ammonium Nitrate (UAN) and ammonium nitrate, Caribbean nations are facing further increases in production costs. It is predicted that fertilizer prices are the highest in history and will stay that way for a while due to the war.
And then, there is the direct issue of food. Given their status as “the breadbasket of Europe,” the conflict will have severe implications for current inflationary dynamics in the Caribbean— despite neither country being a major regional trading partner. Both Russia and Ukraine account for a third of global wheat exports, a fifth of the global corn trade and half of the world’s sunflower products, (USDA). It is no surprise, then, that the price of wheat jumped to its highest in decades and analysts have warned that war would not only impact grain production but could double global wheat prices and, by extension, flour, bread, noodles, biscuits, cereal— major components in the typical basket of goods of the poor and vulnerable.
The struggle has already begun and there has been a significant impact on the price of flour in the Caribbean during a time when supply chain issues, coupled with low crop output in the United States and Canada (where the region gets most of its grains) have been running up the global deficit of wheat, causing major regional price surges since 2020. Grain prices have gone up, fuel prices have gone up, therefore ocean freight has gone up.
In December 2021, Trinidad’s majority state-owned National Flour Mills (NFM) complained that the cost of wheat had gone up by more than 100 per cent, causing a 19 per cent increase in the price of flour. Similar impacts were felt elsewhere within the region, leaving no island untouched. For now, we just have to wait and hope that the US does not enter this war.
Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian educator residing in New York.