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Some real potential problems with food in the Mid East, around the world

 
Eric Hanson
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Without going into to too much about politics, the Ukraine War could cause a real starvation problem in the Mid East in the next year due to a series of cascading economic consequences of the war.

First, with Russian gas being shunned but no replacements available in the foreseeable future, chemical fertilizer production will take a hit as natural gas is used to make fertilizer.  What fertilizer does get made is likely to be very expensive.

Second, both Russia and Ukraine are very large wheat exporters, and they export through the Black Sea.  Ukrainian fields are not likely to even be planted this year as they are being fought over, have a lack of fuel, labor, etc.  Russian wheat faces major export hurdles as most shippers will not ship through the Black Sea ports as it is an active conflict zone, particularly with warships sinking.  Some Russian wheat can be sent out by rail, but this pales in comparison to the amount that can be sent by sea.

Third, the main beneficiary of Russian fertilizer and Russian and Ukrainian wheat is the Middle East and parts of North East Africa (Egypt, etc.).  These are areas known for political instability and low agricultural productivity--the region is largely dependent upon food imports.

I am not certain where the food lost from Russia and Ukraine will (can?) be made up.  At the very least this makes for very expensive food in the upcoming year(s).  At the worst, it means famine.  I hope I am being pessimistic.

I am not writing this just to be a downer.  I am writing just to demonstrate how a regional event is having real impacts beyond its borders.

Thoughts?
Staff note (Eric Hanson) :

Just a note to everyone about politics.  I think it is fair to mention places like Ukraine and Russia and events that are happening, but it is important to not assign blame, no matter how strongly one may feel.  Discussing politics, especially politics that will assign blaming is automatically relegated to the Cider Press.  At the moment this thread is located in Meaningless Drivel, but if it starts to turn even slightly political, expect posts to disappear, for the thread to be moved to the Cider Press, where one needs to have Cider Press privileges to post, or for the whole thread to get permanently locked.

 
James Landreth
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I think this is a very important topic, and I'm curious to see more responses to it. I feel very oddly about the situation, as no one around me is really talking about it, yet the reality is stark and clear to see
 
Rachel Lindsay
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As I have said a couple times around here, I came to Permaculture because I was reading about the ideas of economic systems being based on webs of local businesses--Distributism. I am so passionate about supporting local business and local farming. All of us, everywhere in the world, who are dependent on food from outside of our own yards or towns (and since I have only a few plants in pots in my urban yard, that's me too!) are completely vulnerable to a very fragile system managed by people who don't know us or our kin.

Why have I put up with this for so long? It seems INSANE when I look the source of my sustenance this way: completely managed by strangers I will never see. But I still feel so much luckier than those you've mentioned in the Middle East and Africa, because right now I have a little more ability to choose my future and make changes based on what I see coming.

I know that Permaculture ideas are taking hold in both Africa and the Middle East, and this will likely catapult the successes of local practioners' systems into further awareness and popularity in their countries. These looming crises that seem right around the corner are going to force everyone everywhere to re-examine choices and options, to a greater or lesser degree. I just wish I could do more to help--I hate to think of their suffering.
 
Trace Oswald
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I personally grow much more food than we can eat.  The variety may make us unhappy after a time, but we will have food.  I also have lots to share, if only of a very limited selection.  I grow lots and lots of squash.  It's an easy grower and a good storage crop that doesn't need anything other than a room to put it in.  I can grow thousands of pounds of food for no real time or effort, so I do.  I grow lots of potatoes as well.  Easily hundreds of pounds more food.

I'm renewing my chicken flock with a couple new breeds, but importantly, some young birds that will lay eggs.  My flock is old and no longer lay more than a couple eggs a week.  They are mostly just happy pets at this point.  

Our small family can live a very long time on a few storage crops and eggs, and can hopefully outlast any type of food shortages.  I urge others to do the same, but mostly they look at me like I'm crazy.  I'm fine with them still having that same look on their faces when they come by for eggs, potatoes, and squash when they can't buy food :)  I'll still be happy to share.  I'll share seeds as well, along with the suggestion that maybe next spring, they may want to grow some things themselves to ward off having to eat the same three foods all the time.  I can't do much about the situation, but I can do that.
 
elle sagenev
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We've been watching wheat growers around here plow the wheat under and plant other things, for the first time ever. Winter wheat is our staple crop, everyone plants it. So it's been a very interesting thing, to see the wheat be plowed under. Millet is what they planted.
 
Eric Hanson
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Elle,

Any reason farmers plowed under the wheat crop to plant millet?  I assume that the price of Millet must have spiked?

Eric
 
elle sagenev
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Eric Hanson wrote:Elle,

Any reason farmers plowed under the wheat crop to plant millet?  I assume that the price of Millet must have spiked?

Eric



We assume so. 2 sections of land, approx 1280 acres, were plowed to millet. The wheat had already been planted and was growing too. Baffled us. Obviously must be a financial reason but fascinating all the same.
 
James Landreth
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Interesting. I recently traveled across the US and for the first time noticed no winter wheat. Not in Washington, Idaho, Montana, or North Dakota


The millet might be better because of its drought tolerance
 
Eric Hanson
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Come to think of it, I have not seen the usual crops of winter wheat that are common cover crops in this region.  Maybe the expected prices for wheat were very low?  Most farmers around here at least plant a cover crop, but I have not seen it this year.  Expensive seed?  I have no idea.
 
elle sagenev
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ok so the USDA wheat futures little statement said wheat is up 2% encouraging planting. So weird.

I also found an interesting article saying that millet is a climate change champion as it survives in warmer temps with less water. Fascinating fascinating.
 
Eric Hanson
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So millet makes sense in a warmer world.  I get that.  But plowing under an existing cover crop that is up by 2%?  I can’t get my head around that yet.
 
elle sagenev
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Eric Hanson wrote:So millet makes sense in a warmer world.  I get that.  But plowing under an existing cover crop that is up by 2%?  I can’t get my head around that yet.



I can't understand it either but it was done.

An interesting thing is that the millet has brought about wildlife we never had before. We had cranes in the field last month. Very exciting stuff. I also have to keep the pigs locked up because they find the millet irresistible. Apparently this thing is unbelievably delicious.
 
Stacy Witscher
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The millet thing is unfortunate. Not something that I would ever want to eat, not even my chickens like it. I have been stocking up on flours, so if nothing else I can bake my own bread, and dried pasta. I get bored with food very easily. It's annoying. If I didn't have a choice, I'm sure that I'd get over it but I'm not at that point yet.
 
Tereza Okava
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Eric Hanson wrote:So millet makes sense in a warmer world.  I get that.  But plowing under an existing cover crop that is up by 2%?  I can’t get my head around that yet.


Maybe water forecasts plus shipping forecasts? I translated a report the other day saying shipping fees were up 10X over the past 2 years. A farmer might not care about that, but the broker he sells to might decide it's not worth it and tell him to shift to something else. Along similar lines, bulk ships are getting filled with other stuff (since container prices went nuts) and there might not be as much availability, since Russian-flagged ships are being barred from ports.
Here we're seeing the opposite, there is talk that the government will try to encourage farmers to quadruple wheat production this year. But considering the strong influence the soy industry has, and the crazy prices for oil crops this year (and the same thing with corn), I have my doubts that people are going to dump soy or corn for wheat. (because we grow year round there is usually intercropping- first corn, then soy, in colder areas they might do corn/wheat or soy/wheat).

We have seen prices of everything go nuts due to weather, mostly. People are being a lot more creative to make do. Propane gas also up, people baking less, cooking more with wood. Here I bought an induction burner and we're using a rocket stove for wok cooking- wish I had space for a rocket oven, but that will have to be the next house.
But we're also seeing a lot more gardens in vacant lots and in front yards. A sight for sore eyes!
 
Eric Hanson
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Fair points Tereza,

Seems like the US is similar to your area regarding grain output—wheat is definitely grown, but corn and beans absolutely, positively dominate.

I live in a warmer part of the US and winter wheat is a very common cover crop if for nothing else, just to protect the soil.  That’s why I find it so strange that I see bare fields where winter wheat is typically grown, and plowing under really makes no sense to me unless the cost of harvesting exceeds the price of the wheat.

But what do I know!

Eric
 
elle sagenev
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I'm going to ask ya'll. Our weather has been crap so they're not out right now but when I see them I'm going to ask.


I will say that wheat is a storage crop and most all farmers I see have multiple silos they keep their crops in. So they could hold it for years before selling it.
 
Tereza Okava
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I agree with both of you- plowing under something that's already going seems preposterous, but admittedly since I don't grow at the scale that these folks do, I don't pretend to understand their motivation. Another issue I hadn't thought of is the fertilizer thing- maybe they planned on getting fertilizer that now is in short supply, and decided to abandon ship while there was still time to plant something else.
 
elle sagenev
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Tereza Okava wrote:I agree with both of you- plowing under something that's already going seems preposterous, but admittedly since I don't grow at the scale that these folks do, I don't pretend to understand their motivation. Another issue I hadn't thought of is the fertilizer thing- maybe they planned on getting fertilizer that now is in short supply, and decided to abandon ship while there was still time to plant something else.



They don't fertilize here. Wyoming is an organic wheat growing power house. They don't spray because it's not worth it. The profit margin is already low enough that spraying isn't practical or necessary. At least that's what I was told by a farmer friend of ours.
 
Greg Martin
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I guess my thoughts are just that I hope people will move away from annual agriculture and will help restore the health of our beautiful, miraculous biologically maintained world.  May we all do what we can to move our species away from chemical monocultural annual agriculture.  My thinking is that this was a monumental mistake that dwarfs the damage done by just about anything else people do.  It's all that motivates me to practice permaculture.

UPDATE:  Ok, confession....the amazing, fresh, diverse food experiences are pretty motivating to me too.
 
Greg Martin
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I read that parts of India hit 121F and that some portion of their wheat crop died, as did some people.  I've also read that Indonesia is not permitting export of palm oil due to food expense issues.  Not a bad year for us all to plant extra.
 
John Wolfram
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Eric Hanson wrote:First, with Russian gas being shunned but no replacements available in the foreseeable future, chemical fertilizer production will take a hit as natural gas is used to make fertilizer.  What fertilizer does get made is likely to be very expensive.


Indeed, and the price of fertilizer has already gone crazy. The other day I was at my local farm store and inquired about getting a 50 lb bag of urea. The clerk basically laughed at me, and told me that 1) the price had doubled, 2) it was not a special order with a week or two lead time, and 3) I had to pay in advance.  I'm in an area that wasn't using much energy from Russia, so for European farmers it's going to be nuts.

On the plus side, my permie card will be getting a bit shinier this year as I use more free compost from my county site instead of synthetic fertilizer.
 
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I agree with your awareness. I think many of the problems we are experiencing in north america are and will  in the future be increasingly severe.  I am planting the largest and most diverse garden I have contemplated. if by this fall I can still afford to buy some foods I will share with neighbors and our food bank. some foods are now getting too expensive for a retirees budget in canada. I dont know how bad it is getting for so many in the usa. Far worse than in canada I understand. our homeless difficulties are increasing and so many think more police instead of food and shelter is the answer.  I am also planting millet this year. since the heat dome last year (we reached 47.7 degrees) millet is much more drought and heat tolerant than wheat. experimenting with many different beans, lentels and many more. building food storage, food drying and more bottling. If I have food to share it will support more people and 'community' will grow. I wish well for all.
 
Eric Hanson
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Edd, you make good points.  I really went through this phase in a big way during the spring of 2020 as I just didn’t know if food would be in good commercial supply as COVID was just hitting.

The way I saw it at the time, toilet paper (of all things) was virtually unavailable (fortunately, we had just bought a large pack just before shortages hit, but that was luck), much of the food aisle at grocery stores was practically bare, long lines were forming, and meat plants were shutting down due to worker shortages.  I just didn’t know if commercial food was going to remain available so I went to a local farm store (still open and prices had not changed!) and really stocked up, especially on tomatoes which I planted in great abundance.  Fortunately my fears did not come to pass and I had a bumper crop on top.

BTW, 47 degrees, over 120 F, is crazy high!  Where do you live at that it got that hot?!?
 
Trace Oswald
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Greg Martin wrote:I guess my thoughts are just that I hope people will move away from annual agriculture and will help restore the health of our beautiful, miraculous biologically maintained world.  May we all do what we can to move our species away from chemical monocultural annual agriculture.  



I think those two things are very different.  I'm 100% on board with moving away from "chemical monocultural annual agriculture", but I have no intention of ever moving away from annual agriculture.  Annual agriculture is vital to me.  It's very hard to supply needed calories from perennial foods.  I personally believe that annual crops are better tasting, provide more calories, and most importantly, I believe they are sustainable.  I don't think that annuals and the health of the planet are exclusive goals.
 
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I live in the Okanagan valley of b.c. Summerland b.c.   The head dome last year coming out of a la nina year destroyed many crops in saskatchewan, manitoba, alberta and b.c.  some farmers said they had about 15% of their harvest possible and that would not pay the fuel costs to harvest.   at the onset of covid we had installed a bidet and still had toilet paper from a costco purchase so that was good and we had shelves of canning. the tomato harvest was good.  I have anticipated this kind of collapse since  the mid 1960's and it seems to be unfolding as predicted. the failure of the just in time system is a major part of our empty shelves in the stores and auto supplies etc.  There are some things that stocking up wont fix. building a cooperative and inter supportive community of sharing might be best. I grew up with great grandparents in the big horn basin of wyoming who still lived in a log house. I was in what to some view only from western novels and those views are not all that accurate. be thoughtful and caring for your future.

Eric Hanson wrote:Edd, you make good points.  I really went through this phase in a big way during the spring of 2020 as I just didn’t know if food would be in good commercial supply as COVID was just hitting.

The way I saw it at the time, toilet paper (of all things) was virtually unavailable (fortunately, we had just bought a large pack just before shortages hit, but that was luck), much of the food aisle at grocery stores was practically bare, long lines were forming, and meat plants were shutting down due to worker shortages.  I just didn’t know if commercial food was going to remain available so I went to a local farm store (still open and prices had not changed!) and really stocked up, especially on tomatoes which I planted in great abundance.  Fortunately my fears did not come to pass and I had a bumper crop on top.

BTW, 47 degrees, over 120 F, is crazy high!  Where do you live at that it got that hot?!?

 
Greg Martin
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Trace Oswald wrote:

Greg Martin wrote:I guess my thoughts are just that I hope people will move away from annual agriculture and will help restore the health of our beautiful, miraculous biologically maintained world.  May we all do what we can to move our species away from chemical monocultural annual agriculture.  



I think those two things are very different.  I'm 100% on board with moving away from "chemical monocultural annual agriculture", but I have no intention of ever moving away from annual agriculture.  Annual agriculture is vital to me.  It's very hard to supply needed calories from perennial foods.  I personally believe that annual crops are better tasting, provide more calories, and most importantly, I believe they are sustainable.  I don't think that annuals and the health of the planet are exclusive goals.


Agreed Trace.  I was a little clumsy with that wording.  I subscribe to the traditional methods of disturbance farming, where a site is prepared for annual agriculture as the primary production initially on the site and perennials are added to ultimately take over the majority of production on the site in future years.  Having multiple gardens that are offset in time keeps a decent yield in annual crops all the time.  Practical and it mimics natural progressional growth patterns.  Thank you for pointing this out.
 
Greg Martin
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The UN is estimating that perhaps 1.7 billion people will struggle with food due to this war.  So between 1 in 4 to 1 in 5 people on Earth this year.  This really is a strong wake up call for us.  Logging off to go plant more!
 
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Potential problems? From what I've seen at the grocery store lately it already is a problem. Expecting it to get much worse too. Was remembering a lady I saw in the store during the initial covid panic. She had a grocery cart full of ramen. Overheard her say to the cashier that she didn't even know if her family liked ramen. That just didn't seem like the best plan. I think if ever there was a time to grow more than you need this is it! Share with your friends, neighbors, & anyone who might be in need.

Recently I bought some fertilizer for deer food plots. The price more than doubled since last year. Trying to go no till & no fertilizer for those plots but it takes time to make the transition. One problem with that is I want to use some buckwheat. It costs more to ship buckwheat here than the seed costs. I have some seeds but not enough for food plots. I barely have enough to use in the veggie garden. Growing as much of everything as possible this year. Now that our main crops are planted & growing (insert happy dance here) I'll have time to start a major buckwheat seed breeding project. Peanut oil was $20/gallon at the store last week. It's been a few years since I bought any but if memory serves it was about $5/gallon then.

Famine, disease, & war. Quite a vicious triangle. Historically they follow each other around hurting everyone. When will humanity learn?
 
Bryan Elliott
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Wheat prices are really high now as are the other grains.   Perhaps the farmers just planted it for a cover crop to keep the land from blowing away.  I think millet is more drought tolerant than a lot of other crops.  
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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James Landreth wrote:I think this is a very important topic, and I'm curious to see more responses to it. I feel very oddly about the situation, as no one around me is really talking about it, yet the reality is stark and clear to see



I'm reminded of a time when I was monitoring the progress of a certain virus that had recently appeared in China. Various "experts" kept arguing over whether it could spread from person to person, or if patients had caught it from being splattered by the same puddle in the market. Some argued that it wasn't a new virus at all, but just ordinary influenza, so stop talking like it's new.

Then it spread to other towns, and the number of cases climbed faster. The fatality rate at the time was 10x the recovery rate. Cases were starting to show up in country after country. Some world leaders tried to restrict travel to prevent it from reaching their borders, but they were often ridiculed for "overreacting" and "racism", so the virus kept spreading. . .

. . . But nobody around me would talk about it, because of course, it couldn't possibly happen here.

Human nature remains the same. Like Cassandra in Greek mythology, those of us who see what's coming might as well be alone, because no one is listening.

Well, except online, where we pretty much end up talking to each other while the people closest to us ignore every word.
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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Tereza Okava wrote:

Eric Hanson wrote:So millet makes sense in a warmer world.  I get that.  But plowing under an existing cover crop that is up by 2%?  I can’t get my head around that yet.


Maybe water forecasts plus shipping forecasts? I translated a report the other day saying shipping fees were up 10X over the past 2 years. A farmer might not care about that, but the broker he sells to might decide it's not worth it and tell him to shift to something else. Along similar lines, bulk ships are getting filled with other stuff (since container prices went nuts) and there might not be as much availability, since Russian-flagged ships are being barred from ports.
Here we're seeing the opposite, there is talk that the government will try to encourage farmers to quadruple wheat production this year. But considering the strong influence the soy industry has, and the crazy prices for oil crops this year (and the same thing with corn), I have my doubts that people are going to dump soy or corn for wheat. (because we grow year round there is usually intercropping- first corn, then soy, in colder areas they might do corn/wheat or soy/wheat).

We have seen prices of everything go nuts due to weather, mostly. People are being a lot more creative to make do. Propane gas also up, people baking less, cooking more with wood. Here I bought an induction burner and we're using a rocket stove for wok cooking- wish I had space for a rocket oven, but that will have to be the next house.
But we're also seeing a lot more gardens in vacant lots and in front yards. A sight for sore eyes!



Add in the cost of fuel for the harvesting equipment, and the various fill-in-the-blank-icides sprayed on shortly before harvest. It's possible the return on wheat wouldn't cover the cost of harvesting it, so they're trying to cut their losses now.
 
Casie Becker
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I don't think early pandemic shortages were as bad in my area... the dominant grocery chain (think around 80 percent of that market) partners extensively with local growers often across multiple generations. There might not have been everything people wanted, but what was needed was there.

I am hoping that will continue to play out during this crisis also.  They have put a lot of work into helping people develop sustainable and organic foods. Great thing about all these organic farms is that they should have enough soil biology to get some kind of crop even as the conventional dead soils struggle.

Once again we might not have everything people want, but I trust something will be there. I am still adding more things to my garden and purchasing the seeds for next season right now before they run out.  

This might finally be the year for those
Cadbury bunnies, to.  Since the city says 1/2 an acre is too small for chickens we'll settle for the chocolate eggs... imagine an appropriate emoji here.
 
Casie Becker
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Actually, it just occurred to me that in circumstances where your choice is an underfertilized conventional field without their chemicals or a random undeveloped lot plowed for the first time at least that random lot hasn't deliberately poisoned the soil life.  I bet you would get better results from the lot in most cases even if all you can do is seed and water.
 
Alex Riddles
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The original post was focused on the Middle East.  Certainly, the problems will be worst there than for most of the rest of us.  It has got me thinking about Geoff Lawtons "Greening the Desert" project.   It might be a good case study for the rest of us.  Does anybody know a news source for what is happening there?
 
David Salmon
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Just another example that we've been headed for decades into civilizational collapse. The current level of complexity and extraction was recognized as unsustainable decades ago, but here we are. The death throes of global capitalism echo all around us. Permies have a big role to play in guiding humanity back into a more right relationship with Earth, the living organism of which we are but a part.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Apparently, India is now banning all exports of wheat. India bans wheat exports as heat wave hurts crop, domestic prices soar

CNN wrote:ndia banned wheat exports on Saturday — days after saying it was targeting record shipments this year — as a scorching heat wave curtailed output and domestic prices hit a record high.

The government said it would still allow exports backed by already issued letters of credit and to countries that request supplies "to meet their food security needs."

The move to ban overseas shipments was not in perpetuity and could be revised, senior government officials told a press conference.

Global buyers were banking on supplies from the world's second-biggest wheat producer after exports from the Black Sea region plunged following Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Before the ban, India had aimed to ship a record 10 million tonnes this year...



This seems like a very new thing for countries to do. It used to be that counties would export food/items/goods to other counties, even if their own people were starving or struggling to find basic necessities. They'd rather reap the profits, even at the expense of their own population. This meant that countries like America never really had to face a lack of resources, because those other countries would always export to make a higher profit. In many ways, this insulated the "first world" countries from the repercussions of disasters and crop failures.

But, now countries are deciding to just stop exporting. I think it'll be a huge wake-up call for those who've never really felt the consequences of devastating weather events and war upon their supply chain.  
 
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