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It is neither the cow nor the how – Part One.

by Mirko Greco and Laura Franco on the 31/03/2022

The opinions stated in these blogs are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or values of Development Perspectives.

Global logistics is what makes our food systems so diverse, but also fragile, unfair, and unsustainable. And the War in Ukraine is exposing these weaknesses.

As the war in Ukraine evolves, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns of the dangers of European countries' over-reliance on external sources of energy, food and value-added trade. Global food security is at risk. We can see this clearly reflected in the rise of more than 40% in the price of wheat here in Ireland.
This happens as a result of shortages of inputs, like grains, animal feed and fertiliser usually supplied to the Irish market by Russia and Ukraine, as emphasised by the newly formed National Fodder and Food Security Committee (NFFSC).

In addition, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has recently complained about the failure of EU policies to provide food security for EU citizens and to support farmers in producing food for their local communities. This is reflected in the uncertainty they now face around availability and production costs, dramatically shaping farmers’ decisions on whether or not to keep and breed their cattle for the comings seasons. This could lead to catastrophic consequences for animal and human welfare such as an unprecedented succession of massive livestock killings and subsequent lack of access to high-quality food.

A few days ago we were reading an article published in The New Yorker about the undesirable outcomes of economic sanctions on Russia. The author emphasised how Russian elites were paradoxically benefiting from the situation, by increasing their revenues on oil exports, while an energy crisis was unfolding in Europe. In the meanwhile, the middle and lower classes on both sides are the ones suffering the worst consequences.

Then we remembered the controversial article published some time ago by Professor Robert Pape, exposing the significant human costs inflicted on the populations regardless of whether they succeed or fail. He used the example of the sanctions applied on Iraq at the end of the Persian Gulf War. More than 500,000 Iraqi children may have died as a result of these UN Security Council-imposed measures, compared to 5,000 civilian deaths during the war itself.

This is why we believe that this time, once again, EU sanctions on Russia are proving not only ineffective but also counterproductive for the already strained socio-economic systems of European countries. This translates into a turn of events in which Europe itself pays the fines in the form of price hikes for essential goods beyond oil and gas.
On top of all this, China and Russia are already reorganising, easily dodging sanctions that are the legacy of outdated international laws, incapable of addressing the scale of the problem. If it were possible to give a practical definition of unsustainable, the way the EU manages the food supply might be its best approximation.

Coming back to the Irish context, the government is already preparing for the coming food and fertiliser shortages. Following a meeting with the national food security committee on 11 March, the connection between rising commodity prices and the disruption of the global supply chain was emphasised. The government has recently announced a new package of targeted interventions for the tillage sector and a €12 million multi-species turf initiative. Basically, farmers are urged to spread the fertiliser and grow more cereals for first cut silage (fermented forage). On the other hand, the swine and poultry sectors cannot avoid the blow due to their reliance on externally sourced feeds.

This challenge may continue to confront Ireland as months, or possibly years unfold.


Russia is one of the world's top producers of nutrients such as potassium and phosphate, used in fertilisers to grow crops. The EU is heavily reliant on these products, maybe even more than oil or gas. More specifically, can an increase in cereal production, driven by subventions, offset the deficit of fertilisers, given the current situation in Ireland and the EU?

"Half the world's population gets its food thanks to fertilisers... without them, for some crops, yields will drop by 50%," said Mr Svein Holsether, president of the International Fertiliser Association. This sounds more like a threat than a warning, especially when considering the risk of rendering unproductive an already depleted soil. The reality is that, especially in the EU, industrial agriculture is responsible for the loss of several feet of topsoil, which is essential for land fertility.

Millions of acres of land would be incapable of producing the quantities we are currently producing, so we have to drug them. To dodge the problem, the EU and other developed economies have been extracting resources from other parts of the world, often with aggressive, colonialist practices. In our view, this is not fair. We should not force other countries to do what we have done to our soils (and ecosystems) by coercing them to provide us with raw materials through unfair policies and prices.

If the conflict persists, the food systems that are more dependent on global logistics may not be able to continue to function as before. The European Economic Community designed the continent's food system long ago, through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP, 1962-present). The objective was to increase the marginal value of products through mutual imports and exports. Today, it seems that the agricultural sector has become so dependent on this complex logistical system that even the CAP has lost control of it.

All of this means that to seriously address SDGs (specifically 1-2-3-6-10-11-12-13-15), the toxic relationship between industrial agriculture, food production and global logistics will need to be defused. To quote Sara Hurley in a previous entry of this blog, it’s another runaway train that will not stop on its own and whose dangerous effects have affected communities around the world for far too long.

We finish this post with a series of questions to reflect on:

Shouldn't we start thinking about abandoning this model of food production?

Should food even be traded as a commodity?

Is there any viable alternative out there?

This is the first in a series of contributions on the topic of food security in relation to the current Russia-Ukraine conflict. We will address this issue and explore how Irish agricultural and food production may be affected, as well as outline possible more sustainable and secure alternatives to the current status quo.

Here you can find the sources used for this entry, as well as some other useful insights over the same topic:

Mirko Greco and Laura Franco are currently collaborating with Development Perspectives through the Erasmus Young Entrepreneur program (EYE). They are both researchers and entrepreneurs in regenerative practices on the land and communities.

1 comment

inga Herman

said on 05/04/2022 at 15:41

Thank You Mirco and Laura, absolutely spot on insights and well worded.It is very important to educate(and get educated same time)on more sustainable and secure productivity.