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11-19 million more may face hunger: FAO

Reduced exports of wheat and other food commodities from Ukraine and Russia risk leaving between 11 million and 19 million more people with chronic hunger over the next year, the United Nations' food agency said yesterday.

The conflict in Ukraine has fuelled a global food crisis, with surging prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser. Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a key fertiliser exporter and Ukraine a major supplier of corn and sunflower oil.

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Boubaker BenBelhassen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Markets and Trade Division, said the impact of the conflict "could lead to anywhere between 11 to 19 million more hungry people - that's chronic hunger for 2022/23".

This preliminary estimation was based on reduced exports of food commodities from Ukraine and Russia, he told reporters.

The FAO also said in a report on Thursday that spiralling costs for farm inputs like fertiliser could deter growers from expanding production and worsen food security in poorer countries facing record import bills.

"The countries that are being affected most are in the Near East/North African region given their heavy reliance on imports - especially of wheat - from these countries, but also of vegetable oil, sunflower oil," he said.

Some countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia, such as Bangladesh and Indonesia, were also being "highly impacted," he added.

World production of major cereals was expected to decline in 2022 for the first time in four years, while global utilisation was also seen down for the first time in 20 years, the FAO said.

Amid soaring input prices, weather concerns and increased market uncertainties stemming from the Ukraine war, the forecasts "point to a likely tightening of food markets and food import bills reaching a new record high", said FAO economist Upali Galketi Aratchilage.