Asia hit by food security fears amid war in Ukraine

The surge in oil and agricultural prices caused by the war in Ukraine has sparked food security fears across the globe. Here’s a look at the situation in the region and what governments are doing to keep prices and supplies under control.

The surge in oil and agricultural prices caused by the war in Ukraine has sparked fears of spiralling food prices around the world.

Here's a look at the situation in the region and what governments are doing to keep food prices and supplies under control.

Indonesia's food producers may buy wheat from other sources as Ukraine war rages on

Indonesian food producers may seek other alternative sources of wheat imports as the war in Ukraine begins to affect their wheat purchases.

At least eight containers comprising 160 tonnes of wheat needed for flour have been stuck so far in Ukraine, said Ms Ratna Sari Loppies, executive director of the Indonesian Wheat Flour Producers Association, whose members are among Indonesia's key wheat importers and millers.

While acknowledging the impact has been minor, local wheat flour producers are likely to buy from other sources as substitute for Ukrainian wheat, she added.

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Trade in Philippines shielded by distance from Ukraine and Russia, but not from global disruptions

The Philippines is being buffeted by the same disruptive forces emerging everywhere else in the world as a result of the war in Ukraine.

But in terms of direct trade, the country is shielded by distance and few economic links with either Ukraine or Russia. If at all, the war may lead to a smaller amount of cereal being imported from these two countries.

The Philippines buys a combined US$240 million (S$325 million) worth of cereal from Ukraine and Russia, according to United Nations trade data. But this accounts for just a fraction of the US$2.8 billion the country imports in total each year.

Wheat prices are also rising, but the Philippines gets most of its wheat from the United States, not Russia. The conflict, though, is jacking up petrol and energy prices everywhere and, with it, food prices.

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Malaysia imposes price controls, grants subsidies to ease cost pressures

The Russia-Ukraine war may indirectly compromise Malaysia's food security through a surge in the price of fertilisers and animal feed among other things.

While trade with Ukraine and Russia represents only 0.5 per cent of total trade, Malaysia's poultry industry is heavily reliant on imported feed, with about 90 per cent coming from countries like Ukraine, Brazil and Argentina.

In 2020, Malaysia spent RM4.6 billion (S$1.5 billion) on imports of feed for animals.

The reliance on imported chicken feed has seen the prices of chicken and chicken eggs rising in recent times, forcing the government to impose price controls to ease the burden on consumers.

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Thailand's higher production costs may soon be passed on to consumers

The war in Ukraine has increased production and manufacturing costs that could soon trickle down to consumers already feeling the brunt of higher energy and consumer goods prices since late last year.

Thailand's headline inflation rate rose 5.28 per cent in February from a year earlier, which was stronger than expected and the highest level since September 2008.

Thailand's trade with Russia and Ukraine makes up just US$3 billion (S$4.08 billion), with total exports and imports amounting to a mere 0.5 per cent and 0.9 per cent of total trade respectively.

But prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, prices of jasmine rice, palm oil, rubber and live pigs had been on the up, as Thailand attempted to recover from pandemic-induced disruptions and a weak economy.

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India gears up for further hike in edible oil prices

India, the world's largest importer of edible oils, is bracing for more shocks as the war in Ukraine risks further shooting up prices of key products in this category, which have risen by 10 to 30 per cent since last year, stubbornly challenging India's efforts to control inflation.

The country consumes around 1.8 million tonnes of edible oil per month of which about 60 per cent is imported. Sunflower oil accounts for around 200,000 tons of this monthly consumption, with as much as 85 per cent coming from Ukraine and another 14.3 per cent from Russia between November last year and February this year.

As shipments from the Black Sea region have stalled because of the war, there are concerns that household budgets, particularly those of lower income families, will come under added stress from any further increase in prices.

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China's self-reliance keeps food prices and supplies stable amid Ukraine war

On a Wednesday morning at a wet market in central Beijing, housekeeper Wang Hailan was happy to find that pork and vegetable prices were the same as the previous week's.

"My employers, who are foreigners, were worried that food prices were going to rise because of the international situation," the 46-year-old told The Straits Times, "but I kept telling them that this is China, and we will have enough of everything, even during a pandemic."

Food prices in China have largely remained insulated from the war in Ukraine thanks to a series of policies that have emphasised food security and sustainability.

The bruising trade war between Washington and Beijing, an African swine fever outbreak beginning in 2018, and the food price shock sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the government to improve self-reliance in the nation's food supply.

This meant diversifying food sources, and turning inwards for a domestic supply.

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Australia's record grain harvest could help address global shortages caused by Ukraine war

Australian farmers are experiencing bumper grain harvests that could help to address shortfalls caused by the war in Ukraine, which has already led to surging prices of grains and other staples.

Ukraine is one of the world’s most fertile countries. The nation and its neighbour Russia account for 25 per cent of global wheat exports and over 30 per cent of barley exports. 

But the war is set to reduce the supplies of wheat, barley and other staples like corn and sunflower oil, especially as farmers are unable to secure fuel and fertilisers, much of which comes from Russia. 

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