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Here’s how to stop Putin and prevent a global food crisis | Food

The war in Ukraine has shown how international efforts to confront Russia are severely hampered by an uncomfortable reality: the isolation of the Kremlin poses massive risks to global food security.

The sanctions regime against Russia has disrupted the food supply chain. As Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II rages on – and is likely to last for several more months – there is an urgency to minimize its impact on the planet’s food needs.

Moscow is trying to use this deepening crisis to sidestep economic pressures aimed at forcing it to end its assault on Ukraine, which, along with Russia, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of grains and cooking oils.

In response, Western policymakers must develop policies that can fulfill both imperatives: countering Russian aggression and preventing a global food crisis. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.

Russian fertilizers – vital to farms in different parts of the world – may be the key.

Sure, since the end of July there has been a Turkey-brokered agreement between Russia and Ukraine to allow grain shipments through the Black Sea. The agreement calls on both Moscow and Kyiv not to attack ships carrying much-needed supplies of grain from the war zone. However, as Russia seeks to consolidate its hold in eastern and southern Ukraine and the Western-backed government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv is determined to force the invading armies to withdraw from the occupied territories, further access to a of the grain baskets of the world endangered .

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Russia’s war in Ukraine has exacerbated a pre-existing situation where the global economy has been impacted by other conflicts, climate change, rising energy costs, and most importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic. High energy prices increased fertilizer costs, and the war and sanctions threatened the supply chain.

To avoid a major global conflict while preventing Russia from destroying Ukraine’s sovereignty, the United States and its allies and partners have relied heavily on economic and financial warfare to try to get Moscow to back down.

However, the Kremlin has responded by arming its own and Ukraine’s grain supplies. While Russia may not achieve its military goals and face mounting financial pressures, it can still spread that pain around the world. Food shortages in developing countries and the resulting political instability in the Middle East and North Africa could prompt millions of migrants to make the perilous journey to Europe, as they did during the Arab Spring and the wars in Iraq and Syria. This, in turn, could politically destabilize Europe as the far right channels anti-immigrant sentiment to challenge mainstream parties.

Like energy, food is a loaded weapon that the Kremlin believes it is pointing at the West. But, as with oil and gas, a skilled balancing act by the international community can help keep the pressure on Moscow without leading to malnutrition, famine, mass migration and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Europe’s dependence on Russian gas supplies has seen the continent gradually wean itself from this addiction in recent months, giving the Kremlin an opportunity to threaten to halt energy exports unless sanctions are lifted.

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While finding alternative energy sources is a long-term endeavor, it may be relatively easier to secure more crops from other food-producing nations in an attempt to lessen Russia’s influence. Crucial to this is the steady influx of Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian fertilizers to boost crop yields around the world.

Russia, one of the largest fertilizer exporters, accounts for 23 percent of the world’s ammonia, 21 percent of potash, 14 percent of urea and 10 percent of phosphate. These chemicals have the potential to increase international grain production many-fold; up to 100 million tons of wheat or 400 million tons of corn per year, based on calculations that take into account global food consumption and the amount that fertilizers contribute.

While fertilizers are not officially banned, sanctions against people associated with Russian fertilizer companies, hurdles in completing payments, and transportation-related obstacles are obstacles in the way of this strategy.

Adjusting the very targeted sanctions regime against Russia so that fertilizers can flow better will not help Moscow much. Russia’s revenue from fertilizer exports in 2021 was about $12.5 billion. That’s just a change from the Kremlin’s expected revenue from hydrocarbon exports this year: around $337 billion. On the other hand, if farmers around the world can access these fertilizers, produce food, and thereby also remove a weapon from the Kremlin’s armory, the world will gain immensely.

Strategy and politics are about trade-offs. The price of countering an opponent is not the emergence of serious crises far from the battlefield. We should avoid causing massive food insecurity around the world. If the world agrees to curb Russian oil and gas exports, the sand in Moscow’s hourglass will run out faster and the end of the Ukrainian tragedy will come closer.

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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