“There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy” — Alfred Henry Lewis
If you are not paying very close attention to the impending global food crisis, you should be. There is no force or power as threatening and destabilizing as hunger, especially among a population that has grown far too accustomed to having food available in unbelievable variety and excess.
I try my best to avoid getting too worked up about possible crises (we have had our fair share of both real and over-hyped crises over the last few decades), but there is a confluence brewing of three major disruptions that actually have a real potential to throw the world (and our country) completely into a chaotic mess.
First, there is the large amount of grain and other food staples that Russia and Ukraine export that will be disrupted by the Russian invasion. For example, Russia and Ukraine make up 28% of global wheat exports. Ukraine alone constitutes 14% of global corn exports. In isolation, we have the ability to collectively handle the shock of these production/export losses without too much trouble. I read an article recently that said that Ukrainian exports made up only 2.2% of all calories consumed on the planet. We can manage that - especially because Russia and Ukraine do not make up a significant portion of rice or soybean production, which are easy high yield staple replacements for wheat and corn.
But then add on the second disruptor, the loss of fertilizer exports. As a background, there are basically three key components that make up any fertilizer: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. These three constitute the numbers (xx-xx-xx) you see on the label of any fertilizer you buy at the store. It so happens that Russia is a major global exporter of all three components of fertilizers. Russia makes up 14% of global phosphorous exports, 15% of nitrogen exports, and (together with Belarus) 37% of potassium exports. Shortages (or prohibitively high costs) of fertilizer means we should expect to start seeing lower crop yields in the upcoming growing seasons. Again, on its own, this is a system shock we could handle. But can we handle it concurrently with the loss of Ukrainian grain exports? Now I start to get a little concerned.
But maybe we can quickly ramp up production domestically or elsewhere and move things around to compensate, right? That is where persistent disruptions in global supply chain comes into the picture. Everyone is feeling the frustrations caused by breakdowns of the supply chain as we have experienced increased levels of shortages among retailers and elsewhere. Should these issues persist, it will substantially hamper our ability to respond to the disruptions from the loss of grain and fertilizer exports.
In reality, these problems are going to be felt far worse in countries that are poorer or unable to produce their own food. So why should that be our problem in North America? Because these food shortages elsewhere will be incredibly destabilizing in those countries and has the power to topple multiple governments. We are already beginning to see the genesis of this unrest in the last couple weeks in places like Peru, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. History clearly shows that when governments are overthrown due to rioting hungry citizens, what replaces the ousted government is often far worse. Napoleon replaced the French monarch. The Bolsheviks replaced the Russian tsar, Nazis replaced the Weimar Republic, and so on and so on. This gives me little confidence that we can firewall the problems arising out of these destabilized countries. On top of that, we unfortunately depend on many of these same countries to supply commodities and materials necessary for maintaining our own economy. Add to that the fact that we have geopolitical opponents in Russia and China who will be waiting with open arms to bring these countries under their wing. Overall, this is not a good recipe.
I am not saying that we need to go all doomsday prepper and start hoarding (yet), but if there ever was a time that we, individually, needed to start putting some food and extra necessities aside, I think that time is now. I know this is an investment site, but one investment we should not be neglecting is our own preparation. Time to start working on our gardening skills, or improving our cooking abilities so we can be less dependent on grocery stores, eating out and less wasteful with food in general.
Politically, it is time to pull our head out of the sand get serious about ramping up domestic commodity production, starting with industrial metals and materials (fertilizer material, copper, lithium, nickel, zinc, silver, palladium, antimony, and so on). Unpopular opinion on here, I know... But this post is primarily about food supply, so maybe another day.
Now I talked myself into a worry, time to go Netflix binge so I don’t have to deal with the anxiety of it all.