Food technology

The invasion of Ukraine will not only disrupt the food supply

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began yesterday, appears to be driven as much by the paranoid delusion and ultra-nationalist ideology of Vladimir Putin as anything else.

But Ukraine is also blessed with strategic economic assets that will likely have served as secondary considerations for the Kremlin, including food and agriculture.

Ukraine is a major producer and exporter of agri-food products, and the ongoing invasion will almost certainly cause significant disruption to global food supply chains – just as the world grapples with those caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 19.

Bread basket from Europe

Long recognized as “the breadbasket of Europe”, Ukraine holds the tenth largest area of ​​arable land on Earth – and the largest entirely in Europe – at 339,000 square kilometres. It contains a quarter of the world’s extra-fertile chornozem (“black soil”), containing higher than average percentages of humus, phosphorus, phosphoric acids and ammonia.

Industrial ammonia, as well as other mineral and chemical-based nitrogen fertilizers, are also Ukraine’s main export products.

In terms of food, the country is among the top 10 producers of wheat, corn, barley, rye, potatoes and buckwheat (as well as several other vegetables, fruits, poultry, eggs and honey) . Its national flower is the sunflower; and rightly so, it is the world’s largest producer and exporter of sunflower oil.

One of the few countries that can match Ukraine’s prodigious agri-food production capacity is none other than its aggressor, Russia.

It is therefore clear that the Kremlin’s actions will not only have a direct impact on Ukraine’s ability to provide food to the world; but also his own, as economic sanctions and reprisals from Ukraine’s allies wreak havoc.

No more food inflation; most affected developing world

The effects will reverberate around the world. Food prices, already at record highs in many parts of the world, are expected to soar further. The supply of certain agri-food products may slow down to a minimum and disappear completely from shelves and stores in certain places; especially if the contagion of war spreads beyond the current theater. Developing countries are likely to be hardest hit.

But it’s not just food production itself that will be affected.

Much of the technology that enables and optimizes this production is also likely to be negatively affected.

In addition to being major producers of agricultural raw materials, Ukraine and Russia are also major exporters of iron ore, concentrates, and finished and semi-finished steel; metal tubes and pipes; and insulated wires and fiber optic cables.

They are also among the main suppliers of neon and palladium, two crucial elements for the manufacture of semiconductors.

These are all key elements for technology-driven agriculture; enable connectivity between sensors, smartphones and machines that allow modern farmers to monitor, manage and optimize their operations; to increase their yields, reduce long-term costs and increase their income.

technology too

The human capital contribution that Ukraine brings to agritech should not be overlooked.

The country has become something of a software development hub, with a well-educated technical workforce that has a lower labor cost than most of the rest of Europe. As a result, many tech startups outsource their development and engineering to the country.

This is as true for agtech as it is for other sectors (maybe Ukraine’s agricultural pedigree has something to do with it.) Last year, AgFunder, APNco-published a research report on the country’s vast digital agriculture scene with local companies AgroHub and Top Lead.

As political analyst Arieh Kovler pointed out in a Twitter post, this will likely be one of many “unintended global consequences” of the war. “Something like 200,000 Ukrainian programmers are in the war zone and many have been conscripted” into military service to defend their country, wrote @LaurieDonahue in response.

With much of the world’s food, fertilizer and technological necessities coming from Ukraine and Russia, we face another global food crisis, even as the one caused by Covid-19 continues.

And following the experience of Covid-19, the war in Ukraine reiterates the need to move towards decentralized and localized food production. When there are so many people on the planet who need to be fed, it is simply not sustainable to rely so heavily on a handful of places to supply us with the grains, chemicals and other essentials we need. we need to achieve this. . The case for technologies that can enable this decentralization – such as vertical farming, organic fertilizers and cellular agriculture – is growing stronger by the day.