Updated: Jul 13, 2022
As part of our #SwitchOffPutin campaign, we took a deep dive in the numbers and dug up what Europe can - no, must - do to deal with the food crisis.
Wheat, grown in Ukraine, in March 2022. Putin is preventing this staple crop from being exported. (Photo: Diana Vyshniakova/Unsplash)
Europe has the capacity to face down Putin’s attempt to starve the Global South through the Russian food export blockade of Ukraine, but only if it changes its own practices, finds a new report released today.
The report by the pro-science environmental NGO RePlanet outlines how the European Union can avoid worsening the food crisis by taking measures like scrapping biofuels, reducing meat consumption and boosting agricultural productivity in the continent.
On an average year, Ukraine’s fertile soils produce enough food to support 400 million people. Because Putin prevents food from being exported, food prices have already risen by more than a fifth. According to the UN World Food Programme, up to 49 million people in dozens of countries “could now be at risk of falling into famine or famine-like conditions,” due to Putin’s blockade.
“Europe can and must beat Putin’s global food blackmail,” says report author Mark Lynas, a veteran environmentalist and co-founder of RePlanet. “Just as Europe must stop buying fossil fuels from the Kremlin by saving energy, so we must also do our bit to help avoid starvation in the Global South by sparing food at home.”
The report is entitled ‘How one man is starving the world: What Europe must do to stop him’. It is part of RePlanet’s wider ‘Switch Off Putin’ campaign to support Ukraine. The previous report in the series detailed measures which would allow an immediate boycott of all Russian oil, coal and gas by switching to alternative energy sources.
"Just as we must stop buying fossil fuels from the Kremlin by saving energy, so we must do our bit to help avoid starvation in the Global South by sparing food at home."
Eliminating biofuels would avoid wheat and other grains being diverted into ethanol for cars. This way, about a fifth of total Ukraine wheat exports can be substituted. This would also avoid land clearance both in and outside Europe.
Furthermore, Europeans must be encouraged to eat less meat, particularly beef and pork, so large amounts of grain can be spared for humans to eat directly. Just reducing European meat consumption by half could free up 80 million tonnes of grains. This transition towards plant-based alternatives can begin immediately, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spare large amounts of land for rewilding and conservation.
Lastly, the European Union must reconsider its target to more than triple the share of agricultural land under organic farming to 25% by 2030. The so-called Farm to Fork strategy will make agriculture less productive, reducing grains production by an estimated 20 million tonnes. Instead, Europe should lift its prohibitionary regime on biotech crops, including transgenic and gene edited crops, which can help make agriculture more productive and sustainable.
Europe burns the equivalent of 15 million loaves of bread every day to power its cars.
Facts and figures from the report:
Europe burns the equivalent of 15 million loaves of bread every day to power its cars. This is because biofuels mandates force producers to turn 10,000 tonnes of wheat daily into ethanol to use as a supposedly “renewable” additive to petrol.
Of a total of 274 million tonnes of cereals produced by the EU, 160 million tonnes is fed to animals. Reducing meat consumption by half would make about 80 million tonnes of cereals available for humans to eat directly.
Allowing new crop breeding technologies could result in 20% yield increases for transgenic and gene edited crops. This would equate to gains totalling more than Russia’s and Ukraine’s wheat exports combined.
Adam Blazowski, RePlanet’s Chair, says, “If Europe doesn’t pragmatically look at finding evidence-based solutions, the outcome will be worse for the world’s poor, for the climate and for nature conservation. It will also make it harder to face down Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. Europe can and must do better.”
RePlanet is a network of grassroots charitable organisations across Europe, driven by science-based solutions to climate change, biodiversity collapse and the need to eliminate poverty. RePlanet is supported by charitable grants and volunteers. It accepts no corporate or industry funding.