Millions of people ‘marching towards starvation’ as global food crisis worsens

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An impending global food crisis has been high on the agenda at the World Economic Forum, and could turn into the worst hunger catastrophe in decades.

Since the war in Ukraine, wheat and corn prices have jumped 41 per cent and 28 cent respectively, as Russia and Ukraine combined represent about 30 per cent of global wheat exports.

Some European nations are concerned that rising food prices and shortages in the fragile emerging markets in Africa and the Middle East could lead to a humanitarian disaster and trigger another wave of migration to EU countries.

Russian president Vladimir Putin told Italian prime minister Mario Draghi that Moscow could help alleviate the crisis stemming from the blockade of Ukrainian grain exports, if the west eases its sanctions against Russia. Putin also suggested that the country could export its own grain and fertiliser, if sanctions were lifted.

David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Programme, said up to 323mn people were “marching towards starvation” and 49mn were “knocking on famine’s door” in 43 countries. Food protectionism is also a growing concern, with India announcing a ban on wheat exports this month. Beasley told Gideon Rachman: “Export ban on food can create havoc in the market. We ask countries not to do that.”

This month, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said the G7 group of industrialised nations was urgently seeking alternative routes for the export of Ukrainian grain. The group also recently launched a “Global Alliance for Food Security” with the World Bank, to co-ordinate a short-term response. The alliance aims to increase supplies of food, fertiliser and fuel and to provide financial support to help vulnerable countries avert famine.

Food systems to tackle the global crisis in agriculture will also be given as much weight as energy conservation at the COP28 conference next year in the United Arab Emirates, according to a top official at the WEF. Mariam Mohammed Saeed Al Mheiri, UAE’s minister of climate change and the environment, stressed that the world would need 50 per cent more food by 2050. She called for the importance of keeping markets open to prevent famine and increased efforts to cut meat consumption and food waste.

Latest news

For up-to-the-minute news updates, visit our live blog.

Need to know: the economy

Fiji will join the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework just days before China’s foreign minister lands in the country, giving the Biden administration a victory in its competition with Beijing over influence in the Pacific.

Chinese technology shares leapt today after the country’s largest internet groups beat first-quarter earnings estimates despite the damage caused by Beijing’s zero-Covid policy and widespread lockdowns in the country. However, China’s industrial groups posted their worst decline in profits in two years in April, in the latest sign of the economic and corporate pain stemming from lockdowns.

Federal Reserve officials discussed the possibility of moving the US central bank to a “restrictive” policy stance that would better fight inflation through more aggressive interest rate increases, minutes from the May meeting showed.

China has offered to lend “a few hundred million dollars” to Sri Lanka to help alleviate a shortage of essential goods in the crisis-hit country, according to the island’s prime minister.

Latest for the UK and Europe

Europe is developing contingency plans in case of a complete halt to Russian gas imports, the EU’s energy commissioner Kadri Simson said, as she warned that any country was at risk of being cut off by Moscow. The EU is racing to store as much gas as possible.

British ministers are preparing to launch a £3bn-a-year loan guarantee scheme to replace a broad set of emergency financial support measures brought in to help businesses during the pandemic.

A huge share of UK workers feel that companies are failing to tackle race inequity in the workplace, despite promises to address the issue in the wake of global protests over the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in the US.

British chancellor Rishi Sunak said his latest package of support for UK households will have a “minimal impact” on inflation after the government announced a windfall tax on energy companies to fund lower fuel bills.

The UK has the most persistent post-pandemic drop in employment of any G7 country. Britain also performs poorly among the countries that went into the pandemic with a high employment rate, noted Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies.

Line chart of Employment rate index: 2019 Q4 = 100 showing The UK’s employment recovery since Covid-19 has been the slowest among G7 countries

Global latest

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the demarcation of lands in the Amazon rainforest for the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s indigenous tribes. They have suffered abuse and violence as illegal gold miners, empowered by the support of president Jair Bolsonaro and the surging price of gold, have flocked to the supposedly protected reserves in search of treasure.

Need to know: business

JPMorgan Chase has started to collect data on race and ethnicity from some borrowers in an effort to make good on promises to do more for the black community after the murder of George Floyd. The US commercial bank pledged to spend $30bn by the end of 2025 to address the racial wealth gap through initiatives including $14bn in mortgages and small business loans for black and Latino communities.

Europe’s most valuable private tech business Klarna is cutting 10 per cent of its more than 7,000 staff — and its net loss in the first quarter quadrupled. Critics say the business encourages vulnerable consumers to buy items they do not need with money they do not have.

EY is working on a split of its audit and advisory operations worldwide in the biggest shake-up of a Big Four accounting firm in two decades. The proposal is a bold attempt to escape the conflicts of interest that have dogged the industry and brought regulatory action in the UK and the US.

Apple will increase pay for its workers in a bid to deal with inflationary pressures, unionisation efforts among employees and increasing competitiveness in the labour market.

For the first time, the Financial Times, Nikkei Asia and Statista have compiled a list of Asia-Pacific companies that have achieved the greatest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions intensity.

The inaugural FT annual ranking of Africa’s fastest growing companies provides a snapshot of the corporate landscape on a continent where technology, fintech and support-service businesses have had to adapt to changes such as Covid restrictions.

Science round up

GlaxoSmithKline’s ViiV Healthcare is “actively negotiating” a voluntary licence on the patents for its injectable HIV prevention drug to make it more widely available in poorer nations, where fewer than a third of those at risk are having prophylactic treatment.

Women are more than twice as likely as men to suffer from long Covid, according to the largest study of the condition to date. It also found a history of autoimmune disease or depression increased the likelihood of experiencing symptoms.

Vaccines have the potential to combat growing antibiotic resistance. The Hib conjugate vaccine, given to children shortly after birth to protect them against Hemophilus influenzas, which can cause meningitis, has proved the most successful. Better diagnostic tests are also crucial in the fight against antibiotic resistance to ensure drugs are used appropriately. However, there are barriers to progress in poorer regions.

Scientists in the UK have successfully created tomatoes that make large amounts of vitamin D in their leaves and fruit using pioneering gene editing technology. This development could advance global efforts to tackle a vitamin D deficiency affecting about 1bn people.

Covid cases and vaccinations

Total global cases: 522.4mn

Total doses given: 11.8.bn

Get the latest worldwide picture with our vaccine tracker

And finally . ..

Members of music band Abba are reviving their hits in a virtual concert performing as avatars — or Abbatars — garnering rave reviews such as “a blockbuster spectacle” and “fun in an age of high anxiety”. John Gapper writes: “I do not blame Abba for seeking to avoid the stress of performance, and relying on technology to deliver the old numbers.”

The four avatars representing the members of Abba
Abba’s band members may age but their avatars portray them in their prime, and the songs remain the same © PA

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