There’s no doubt you’ve already seen for yourself the rising cost of food with your weekly shop. While there are many factors contributing to the cost of living crisis in the UK, the one in the media the most is the Russian-Ukraine war. We wanted to highlight why the conflict impacts food prices here in Sheffield and where else your monthly food bill may have skyrocketed this year.
The direct impact of the war on food prices comes from food shortages. Ukraine is a large farming country, and it produces vast amounts of food for the world, including many ingredients we enjoy here. Because of the conflict, many farmers can’t safely bring in their crops, so less food is available. The food that can be harvested is being kept for civilians surviving the conflict, and therefore there is less to export to other countries. Likewise, Russia has banned various exports to ensure food availability for the Russian population.
Russia and Ukraine are significant exporters of key staple crops, including wheat, oats, barley, corn and sunflower oil, so prices for these items have exploded as shortages hit. In 2019, Russia and Ukraine exported more than a quarter (25.4%) of the world’s wheat. This includes the raw ingredients for consumers and the countless products that contain these ingredients. As such, prices for foods containing these ingredients have seen large increases here at home.
The cost of food is one of the biggest drivers in the cost of living crisis here in the UK. In June, the S6 food bank reported that they’ve had a 28% increase in demand compared to 12 months previously. Between April 2021 and March 2022, they fed over 50,000 people (including 20,000 children).
Another factor affecting food prices that you may not have considered is the cost of fertilisers.
Russia and Ukraine are among the most crucial agricultural fertiliser producers globally. However, as with raw food ingredients like wheat, the access to raw materials used in fertilisers has been reduced. Therefore their prices have shot up 30% since the turn of the year. This comes from Ukraine being unable to process materials and Russia lowering exports. But, sanctions against Russia, import bans and increasing gas prices will increase the cost of fertilisers too.
Many farmers in the world are reliant on these types of fertilisers. Those that can access the fertilisers will be paying a higher price, and therefore this hike in costs is being passed on to the consumer. But, what is more worrying, is that those that cannot access or pay for the fertilisers may see food yields decrease in the coming months and years.
A move to more naturally produced fertilisers and permaculture-based farming will help alleviate these issues in the future, but this needs to start work now. Luckily, there are already some amazing organisations that are using these practices to grow local, organic produce right here in Sheffield, especially in the Moss Valley area of Sheffield.
You may have noticed that food isn’t the only cost skyrocketing in recent months. Petrol and diesel prices are at an all-time high. Some of this is down to cost rises associated with the pandemic, but the Russian war has worsened as countries reduce or ban their use of Russian oil. This increases the cost of transportation for us all, but it also increases the cost of food prices.
Most of our food is shipped from abroad or from across the country, the majority of this travel is reliant on petrol/diesel transportation. Therefore a rise in fuel increases the cost of production and retail, which is passed on to the consumer.
This highlights why local food is vital to ensure access to food at a better cost to communities. Luckily, we have many local farmers and food producers who are already creating local food for our community, but we need more.
It’s not just Ukraine
We also want to highlight that the war isn’t the only reason we’ve all seen price rises. Prices have been steadily increasing over the last few years and therefore are not wholly down to the conflict in Ukraine. While the conflict has exacerbated these issues, the problems with our food system have been building for generations. It’s important to remember these significant factors when discussing the cost of living crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic impacted food supply chains massively, with food shortages created from source to retail. With covid still affecting many countries around the world, we continue to see shortages as a result. In Sheffield, we saw record numbers of people using our network of food banks and this has worsened since the start of the conflict.
The climate crisis is here and now, affecting food prices directly. Droughts impacted harvests around the world last year and currently, especially in most parts of the west and east Africa, the U.S., Australia and now India. On the flip side, devastating floods in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. last year and South Africa this year wreak further damage to supply chains.
Lastly, only a few multinational corporations control a large percentage of the global food system. This means they control what we eat, how we access the food and the price that it is. If we can bring food production and retail into local hands, the community can have more control over what happens with our food supply. Food, after all, is a human right, not just a commodity.