After a tremendous increase in fertilizer prices since 2019, and particularly during the course of 2021, the world stands on the brink of a substantial drop in global food production in 2022, at a time when mass starvation has already hit Afghanistan, Yemen, and six nations in Africa. If dramatic actions are not taken to reverse this process right away, more than 100 million more human beings can be added this year to the ranks of those in danger of starvation, which already number more than 200 million in the latest judgment of the World Food Program and its head David Beasley.
The causes of this terrible toll of hunger and starvation are mostly a failed economic model which must be replaced; but in Afghanistan, they are viciously geopolitical and we must undo this punishment now.
Regarding the economic failure: The World Bank Fertilizers Price Index for the world, which in April of 2020 was at 66.24 and in January 2021 had risen slowly but steadily to 82.96, by December 2021 had exploded to 208.01, more than tripling in 20 months. The rise of 60% in just the last two months of 2021 has particularly devastated farmers around the world. Their situation is even worse in the Northern hemisphere where fertilizer (and pesticides) for the spring planting look entirely inaccessible. The Wall Street Journal’s Jan. 21 article, “‘Farms Are Failing’ as Fertilizer Prices Drive Up Cost of Food,” reported that despite global food prices having risen to the highest level in a decade, rapid food inflation is almost certain to continue in 2022 due to fertilizer prices and accessibility.
This, the paper understates, “would exacerbate hunger—already acute in some parts of the world.”
World wheat output is set to drop by 10 million tons in 2022, according to the French agriculture analysis firm Agritel. The effect on maize production will be worse. Corn/maize production costs are rising 15-20% in the major producers America and Ukraine. Lower yields of many foods and agricultural products are projected around the world in 2022. Amid widespread famines already in 2020-21, and loss of informal agricultural work in the developing countries, food may enter global shortage in 2022.
And according to the International Fertilizer Development Center, exceedingly high fertilizer prices could result in a reduction of agricultural output in Africa alone, which will be “equivalent to the food needs of 100 million people.”
Although this monumental fertilizer price increase coincides with sharp rise prices of natural gas and is exacerbated by them, it is far larger, and far more widely and evenly spread around the world, than the natural gas spikes. As corn/maize growers in the United States insist, the gas price spike is not the primary cause of the fertilizer shock and loss of food production.
In fact, as fertilizer use and price both rose in 2019, the International Fertilizer Association forecast that global production and use would drop after 2019, as they did—by roughly 10% in 2020-21. The huge fertilizer price rise after 2019 went along with sharp price rises across the whole range of important global commodities for industry and agriculture; its cause was wild money-printing by the major trans-Atlantic central banks starting late 2019; and global monopoly of production by a few big firms. Four monopolies control 75% of nitrogen-based fertilizer distribution: They are Nutrien Ltd., (Canada-based), Yara (Norway-based), CF Industries (U.S.-based), and Mosaic (part of Cargill, U.S.-based).
Afghanistan is a terrible special case, where when NATO countries withdrew their forces after 20 years of destructive war, they retaliated with a punitive cutoff of international aid and development investment, and the United States Treasury seized Afghanistan’s own financial reserves. A German official just back from Kabul reported in Tagesspiegel Jan. 30 that 7 million children are starving now in Afghanistan; 1 million, he said, would be in hospital ICUs if they were in Europe.
Schiller Institute President Helga Zepp-LaRouche said of the plight of Afghanistan’s population, and the world threat to food-growing this year, “This is the greatest threat to civilization, not nuclear weapons.” She demands, now with many others, that the frozen Afghan funds be released to restore the lost liquidity in the entire economy; and has launched Operation Ibn Sina, to make the nation an exemplar for building a modern healthcare and public health system in every country in the world. To do this the United States must cooperate with Russia, China, and India in particular. And it must break up both its biggest banks with Glass-Steagall, and with anti-trust acts break up the food monopolies.