Food Security

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 31st March 2022.

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Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 3:15 pm, 31st March 2022

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I will go on to make the case that in order to ensure global food security and food security in this country, it is essential for us to produce more food, so that the gap left by Ukraine being unable to export to Africa and other countries can be filled by others and ourselves, if possible. That really is an issue.

Around 400 million people across north Africa and the middle east rely on wheat from Ukraine. Countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya import over 50% of the wheat their people eat every year, and 75% of Lebanon’s wheat comes from Ukraine. These countries are having to take steps to try to produce more wheat at home in difficult conditions, or to find new sources from other countries. In the past 10 days, several countries have introduced restrictions on the export of grain and vegetable oils, including Lebanon, Egypt, Hungary, Serbia, Moldova, Algeria, Turkey and Indonesia.

With millions of people already living in poverty around the world, we could soon face a great humanitarian crisis. The African Development Bank says it is planning to raise $1 billion to boost wheat production in Africa alone and avert potential food shortages. It is going to fund new technologies to try to help African countries to grow cereals, which is normally difficult in those conditions. I hope the Government do what they can to support those efforts.

Fertiliser costs are rising. We all know that the situation in Ukraine is also having an impact on food security in this country. Agriculture relies on specific imports to produce food, including fuel, fertiliser and feed. The cost of those imports varies each year, and farmers are very much at the mercy of the market when it comes to the prices of those imports. We have seen a perfect storm, with all of these spiking at the same time due to global events; when profit margins are already low, big price rises can practically put farmers out of business. The prices of feed and fertiliser are particularly volatile, and represent farmers’ most significant expenses.

The situation in Ukraine has disrupted supplies of potash—a key ingredient in fertiliser and mass produced in Russia and Belarus. That, combined with rising gas prices, is pushing up the cost of fertiliser, with wholesale gas prices up 500% from a year ago and 40% since the invasion of Ukraine. Farmers may face some very difficult decisions about how much fertiliser they use, because £1,000 a tonne—a jump of £245 from a year ago—is not affordable. Those prices cannot be absorbed by farmers, and if we are going to produce more food in this country, the basic fact is that we need to use enough fertiliser.

I welcome DEFRA’s announcement this week that the Government will clarify how the Environment Agency will apply the farming rules for water to allow spreading of slurry in the autumn, and I congratulate the Minister for her work in that area—it is very good news, and long awaited. I also welcome that any changes to the use of urea will be delayed by a year, given the crisis we are in. Over the long term, there is scope for moving towards more organic fertilisers. We can look at other forms of fertiliser, such as using dry leachate from biodigestion plants, but all of this is coming, and we need to deal with ammonium nitrate now. I welcome the decision to put an extra £20 million into the farming innovation programme to come up with new solutions.