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Three ways to reduce geopolitical risks in the global food system

food system

Countries are called to invest in renewable energy, recycle their surplus of nutrients, and close the regional yield gap to depressurize the food system. Image: Unsplash/Polina Rytova

Svein Tore Holsether
President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International
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  • The ongoing war is exacerbating the global food crisis, as both Russia and Ukraine are major players in agriculture and food production.
  • Maintaining trade flows and reducing dependence on Russia is vital to offset the impacts of the war on the global food system.
  • Countries are called to invest in renewable energy, recycle their surplus of nutrients, and close the regional yield gap to depressurize the food system.

Both Russia and Ukraine are world powers in agriculture and food production, and the war in Europe is exacerbating a global food crisis. Subsequently, all efforts should be made to maintain trade flows of essential agricultural goods and inputs in the short term. We should also prevent isolated protectionist policies that will lead to new food price hikes, hitting the most vulnerable and causing further destabilization, and call on countries to release food stocks to decrease the pressure on the food system instead.

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Contracting geopolitical risks in the global food system

However, it is clear that we must reduce our dependency on Russia in the longer term. Here are three concrete ways of doing so (that will simultaneously lead to a greener and more decarbonized food system):

1) Invest in renewable energy

Approximately half of the world's population has access to food due to mineral fertilizers, and today it’s produced by using natural gas. Considering Russia accounts for about 40% of the gas supply to Europe, a massive investment in renewable energy is needed to reduce the dependency on Russia. The shift will also enable the production of green ammonia, which can be applied to provide fossil-free fuel and fertilizers for shipping – a giant stride in the transition to regenerative agriculture.

2) Intensify efforts to recycle nutrients

Russia is one of the largest exporters of fertilizers and nutrients like potash. However, it's well-known that the food system has a significant surplus of nutrients that aren't being utilized but are instead harming the environment through, for example, leakage. By finding ways of producing organo-mineral fertilizer based on recycled nutrients, we will have taken another major step towards regenerative agriculture and nature-positive solutions – while reducing dependency on Russia.

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3) Increase productivity in developing countries

There are enormous regional differences in global agricultural productivity, often referred to as the yield gap. Harvests are determined by many factors, including weather, optimised use of inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and farming techniques. By using the right decision-making tools and having access to knowledge and quality inputs, smallholder farmers can significantly improve yields. If farming in many African countries, for example, reached the same productivity level as European countries, they would strengthen their resilience, enable many more livelihoods, and could finally be net exporters instead of major food importers.

By the way: We don’t need many scientific breakthroughs to achieve this. Most of the technology and knowledge are already in place and only need to be implemented. However, to do so, we must move with speed and urgency.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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