Weekly Columns

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is run by my good friend David Beasley. Under his leadership, WFP was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger, promote peace in conflict-affected areas and prevent the weaponization of food as part of war and hostilities. 

David will remain at WFP’s helm for another year, which is very good news. The world is about to find out just how vital his steady leadership is during a time of crisis. 

Global food prices are a whopping 34 percent higher than they were this time last year. The high cost of food has complicated humanitarian efforts to help those suffering from food insecurity at a time the world is seeing those in need increase dramatically. 

The massive market disruptions brought on by Russia’s ruthless invasion of Ukraine will make it more difficult for WFP and other organizations to feed the hungry. Ukrainian ports are closed, and likely to remain so until the invasion ends. Additionally, Russia is threatening to only export agricultural and food products to countries it considers “friendly.” This spells trouble for many nations that rely on exports out of the Black Sea. 

Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters to regions of the world most at-risk for food insecurity-driven conflict. On average 18 percent of corn, 30 percent of wheat, 71 percent of barley, and close to 80 percent of sunflower-based cooking oils are exported from these two countries annually. Disruptions in the supply of these commodities will affect food security and further increase ballooning global inflation. 

President Biden has acknowledged the looming threat of international food shortages is “going to be real.” Despite this pronouncement, his administration has been slow to act.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has not provided Congress its plans to address the forthcoming global food crisis and support domestic producers’ efforts to meet increasing demand.

It’s past time for the administration to do that as well as empower American farmers to help ward off this emergency.

If USDA were to grant flexibilities for current or prospective participants in its programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, millions of acres of cropland and pasture that would have otherwise remained idle can be farmed for food production. It’s a win-win solution.

Time is of the essence. An estimated 323 million people are at risk of food insecurity this year. Furthermore, WFP estimates more than 44 million people around the world are on the brink of famine. 

Arkansas family farmers stand ready to help to bridge the gap globally and help bring down food costs here at home. President Biden should allow them to scale-up capacity to aid those desperately in need.

As major importers of Ukrainian and Russian agriculture products, countries across North Africa and the Middle East have experienced a significant increase in wheat prices as domestic production has been crippled by droughts. These same nations will be dealt another blow when the supply of wheat exported via the Black Sea dwindles. The economic conditions in these parts of the world are already grim. Inaction could very well lead to Arab Spring 2.0. 

Violence breaking out in any of these countries could also result in migrant crises with tragic consequences as people take drastic measures to flee their war-torn homelands.

David Beasley and his dedicated team at WFP are on a mission to prevent these scenarios from occurring. Farmers in The Natural State and across the country can help accomplish that goal. However, what is missing is leadership from the Biden administration to make this happen.