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High energy and fertilizer prices are more damaging than food export curtailment from Ukraine and Russia for food prices, health and the environment

Abstract

Higher food prices arising from restrictions on exports from Russia or Ukraine have been exacerbated by energy price rises, leading to higher costs for agricultural inputs such as fertilizer. Here, using a scenario modelling approach, we quantify the potential outcomes of increasing agricultural input costs and the curtailment of exports from Russia and Ukraine on human health and the environment. We show that, combined, agricultural inputs costs and food export restrictions could increase food costs by 60–100% in 2023 from 2021 levels, potentially leading to undernourishment of 61–107 million people in 2023 and annual additional deaths of 416,000 to 1.01 million people if the associated dietary patterns are maintained. Furthermore, reduced land use intensification arising from higher input costs would lead to agricultural land expansion and associated carbon and biodiversity loss. The impact of agricultural input costs on food prices is larger than that from curtailment of Russian and Ukrainian exports. Restoring food trade from Ukraine and Russia alone is therefore insufficient to avoid food insecurity problem from higher energy and fertilizer prices. We contend that the immediacy of the food export problems associated with the war diverted attention away from the principal causes of current global food insecurity.

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Fig. 1: The role of Russia and Ukraine in the global wheat market.
Fig. 2: Diagram of LandSyMM structure.
Fig. 3: Diagram of the four scenarios modelled in the study.
Fig. 4: Percentage change in global commodity market prices between the no shock scenario and the three other scenarios.
Fig. 5: Change in annual deaths between the no shock scenario and combined energy and export restriction scenario.
Fig. 6: Global agricultural land use from 2020 to 2040.
Fig. 7: Difference in land use in 2030 between the combined energy and export shocks scenario and the no shock scenario.

Data availability

Input data sources from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO; https://www.fao.org/faostat), World Bank (https://databank.worldbank.org) and the IIASA SSP database (https://tntcat.iiasa.ac.at/SspDb) are publicly available. The crop and pasture yield potential data from LPJ-GUESS are available on request from the corresponding authors. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The model code used is publicly available at https://git.ecdf.ed.ac.uk/lul/plumv2/tags/RussiaUkrainePaper. Full results files can be provided on request to the authors.

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Acknowledgements

P.A. and R.H. were supported by the UK’s Global Food Security Programme project Resilience of the UK food system to Global Shocks (RUGS, BB/N020707/1). R.H. was also funded by the Novo Nordisk Challenge Programme grant number NNF20OC0060118. A.A. and M.D.A.R. acknowledge support through the Helmholtz Association.

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Contributions

P.A. conceived of the idea, and all authors contributed to scenario design. P.A. developed the model and analysed the data. J.M. developed Fig. 1. All authors reviewed the results and developed the main conclusions, as well as drafting and approval of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Peter Alexander.

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Nature Food thanks Petra Berkhout and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Figs. 1–10 and Tables 1–4.

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Source data

Source Data Fig. 4

Modelled results of time series of price percentage changes.

Source Data Fig. 5

Modelled results of annual change of deaths.

Source Data Fig. 6

Modelled results of time series of agricultural areas and intensities.

Source Data Fig. 7

Modelled raster of agricultural areas and intensities.

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Alexander, P., Arneth, A., Henry, R. et al. High energy and fertilizer prices are more damaging than food export curtailment from Ukraine and Russia for food prices, health and the environment. Nat Food 4, 84–95 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00659-9

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