THE SNP have been warning about the cost-of-living storm caused by a dangerous cocktail of inflation, Tory taxes and Brexit. Now, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is threatening to make this storm a hurricane with devastating implications for our society’s energy needs and food security. Putin’s unprovoked attack is going to result in effects that will shape our world for years, if not decades to come.

I have been banging on about the importance of food security for years. The EU gets this and has invested billions in supporting its farmers via the Common Agricultural Policy. The UK, under successive Tory and Labour governments (and that weird phase with the LibDems in coalition) has simply not prioritised domestic food security. The result is that we are woefully unprepared should something display global food and energy supplies.

Both Russia and Ukraine are amongst the most important producers of agricultural products globally. As noted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in 2021 either Russia or Ukraine (or both) ranked amongst the top three global exporters of wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that it gets more than half its grain from Ukraine and Russia, allowing it to feed starving children and adults in humanitarian crises around the world.

Russia, meanwhile, is the world’s top exporter of nitrogen fertilisers and the second leading supplier of both potassic and phosphorous fertilisers (Belarus, also a target of sanctions, is the third largest potash producer). Natural gas plays a crucial role in the production of fertiliser and Russia is the world’s largest exporter of it, supplying up to 40% of the EU’s natural gas.

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So, what happens if Ukraine or Russia just… stop exporting? Ukraine is already under effective blockade from the sea, whilst the conflict means that Ukrainian farmers are unlikely to be able to plant enough for export (even if they were allowed to). Russian sanctions mean it is unclear if its agricultural exports will also be targeted. This is a very-real scenario and the effects will be dramatic.

FAO estimates that “the resulting global supply gap could push up international food and feed prices by 8-22% above their already elevated levels”. The organisation’s own analysis indicates that the humanitarian impact around the world will be devastating, with the number of undernourished people increasing by up to 13 million people in 2022-23. The WFP has warned that the conflict could cause “a dramatic impact … [which] will be felt on food costs, shipping costs, oil and fuel”.

The initial reaction to this might be to simply increase our domestic food supply. Yet farmers in these islands were already struggling with higher input costs even before the war broke out. Prices for Urea, a key nitrogen fertiliser, have more than trebled in the preceding 12 months. Phosphorous fertiliser prices have similarly risen dramatically, with diammonium phosphate doubling from $360 per tonne to $726 per tonne. The price of red diesel, which is used in a lot of agricultural machinery, has also skyrocketed. This time last year it was about 55 pence per litre. Last Thursday, it had trebled to slightly over 151 pence per litre. Globally, the oil price has already cascaded, with prices going above $100 per barrel on the day of Putin’s invasion for the first time since 2014.

What do all these prices, percentages and stat attacks mean? Put simply, the inputs necessary to grow agricultural products have increased dramatically to make agriculture almost unviable. As one farmer told me the other week, grain prices have doubled over the past year, but input costs have trebled. Consequently, despite selling agricultural products for record prices, farmers are earning a lot less bang for their buck.

At some point, the production costs have to get passed onto somebody. The UN has expressed its concern about the potential impact of the conflict on increased food insecurity globally. The Agricultural Market Information System has also expressed its concern that the war will fan consumer food price inflation which had already soared during 2021. As a result, some countries are beginning to hoard food supplies and limit agricultural exports, amplifying the price crisis further.

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So what is to be done? Firstly, we should recognise we cannot continue as we were before. The transition to renewables should be ramped up, not slowed down. Support must be given to create more energy-efficient infrastructure as well as connectors to help transfer renewable energy to where it is most needed. Support must also be given to farmers through education and finance to help move them towards more sustainable agricultural practices.

Secondly, we need international cooperation to keep trade of agricultural goods and fertiliser flowing smoothly. Support must also be given to international organisations such as the WFP to ensure humanitarian crises are not exacerbated further by a lack of global food supply.

Finally, the state is going to have to intervene to help farmers and consumers address inflation and the growing costs of living. Low-income households spend a larger proportion than average on energy and food and will therefore be relatively more affected by increases in prices. Without government support in the form of incentives, individual benefits or regulation to address price inflation, millions more are going to be pushed into poverty and all the horrible effects that has on them and their families.

The UK Government should have acted sooner, but has instead provided a textbook example of what an independent Scotland should not do. Independence in Europe will give us the chance to build resilience in our food security system. Yet, for now, we must also focus on resolving a crisis that many of us have not seen in our lifetimes before. The Scottish Government will do what it can – whether the Tories will follow suit remains to be seen.