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Food prices: how countries are using the global crisis to gain geopolitical power

Negotiations between Russia and Turkey to ensure safe passage of Ukrainian grain hint at a new era of global food diplomacy.



Twenty million tonnes of grain are currently stuck in Ukrainian silos, exacerbating the global food crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of the country. Aside from the need to get the grain onto world markets, freeing up storage space will be crucial to make room ahead of the country’s next harvest season.

Current negotiations between Russia and the Turkish government to ensure safe passage of the grain are focused on establishing an export corridor. The aim is to encourage Russia to lift its blockade of Ukraine’s ports, with the Turkish navy providing an escort for ships to transport this grain through the Black Sea.

As with vaccine diplomacy efforts seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are now jostling to satisfy global demand with a limited amount of increasingly expensive food. But some countries are going a step further than ensuring food is available to their own citizens, hinting at a new era of food diplomacy being used to bolster both old and new alliances.

Food prices in May 2022 were down 0.6% from April but still 22.8% above the same month last year, according to the monthly food price index of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Recent research shows three quarters of people in the UK are worried about the cost of food.

The situation is even worse in many lower-income countries. The war in Ukraine is expected to increase existing food insecurity and drive hunger in some parts of the world to the highest levels this century.

Food supply chains have been severely disrupted by the war because both Russia and Ukraine are large suppliers of key agricultural products like wheat, barley and sunflower oil. It is also expected to have a lasting impact on global trade in food.

Moving food supplies out of Ukraine is not easy, however. Prior to the war, 90% of this cargo left Ukraine by sea, but the Russian occupation of Ukraine’s sea ports has blocked this export route. The EU has stepped up support for transport by road, rail, and river barge, but moving 20 million tons of grain would take 10,000 river barges or up to 1 million large trucks. Border crossings by road are slow and moving freight by train is complicated by different railway gauges in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries.

Grain being loaded into the holds of a sea cargo vessel in Odesa, Ukraine, ODESSA, August 9 2021. Shutterstock

Solving the food crisis

Even if issues around international agreements, availability and capacity of cargo ships and crew, and insurance issues are solved, a food crisis will not be completely avoided. The Ukrainian Grain Producers Association expects that the 2022 grain and oilseed harvest will be down by nearly 40% from 2021 levels. This, together with the potential impact of drought and high input prices on agricultural production in many countries, will have devastating consequences for the world’s food supply.

Fertilisers and grains are not in shortage, but prices and political, logistical and financial difficulties make it challenging to ship large quantities to low-income importers. In poor countries, grains and fertilisers will become unaffordable for the population and will limit domestic production. The food crisis is also affecting wealthy countries, with the EU reconsidering the timeliness of its ambitious “Farm to Fork” reform strategy.

In light of these challenges, many producing countries have banned exports of food. In late May, 10% of calories on the global markets were under export restrictions. This is reminiscent of bans on the export of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021.

Amid a deadly wave of infections, India focused on vaccinating its own population with domestically produced vaccines rather than supplying them to the world. There were also tensions between the UK and the EU over disputes about vaccine distribution.

Vaccine nationalism in 2021 might now be followed by food nationalism. The COVID-19 vaccines were distributed in a very uneven way, with vaccination rates in low-income nations far behind those in the richest countries. As wealthier nations look to shore up their food supplies, similar inequities could arise.

Box printed with COVID-19 vaccine on a factory production line
Countries exported shipments of vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic, often to bolster relations with other regions. Shutterstock

Diplomatic weapons

In 2021, vaccine nationalism led to vaccine diplomacy. Countries exported their COVID-19 vaccines to bolster relations with certain regions. For example, both China and the USA implemented extensive vaccine programmes in Central and South America.

Before its ban, India provided vaccinations to regional partners like Bhutan. China and Russia showed an early dominance in vaccine diplomacy, while western nations were accused of hoarding.

Similarly, 2022 has seen the rise of food diplomacy, making agricultural supply chains just as political as those for oil and gas. Restricted supplies and high demand mean that countries and blocs with a food surplus must decide where to export vital commodities. India has had requests for its wheat supplies from Bangladesh, Egypt, and the UN’s World Food Programme, for example.

When jostling for influence in a region, food exports can become a diplomatic instrument in the form of “food power”. Just as the EU is keen to address expected shortages in the Middle East and North Africa to shore up its influence in the region, for instance, China is supporting African countries facing food crises.

Meanwhile, there is also a battle for control over the narrative on food shortages. Accusations of weaponising food are being levelled at Russia, while China has been both the accused and accuser when it comes to food hoarding fears. The chair of the African Union, Senegalese president Macky Sall, has also blamed western sanctions for supply chain issues.

As major world powers blame each other for their role in driving the current crisis, distributing a limited amount of food to meet global demand will be a defining issue of 2022.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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U.S. National Pension System Ranks 22nd Out Of 47 Countries; Canada Ranks 12th

The three highest-ranking countries on the list for retirees are the Netherlands (85.0), Iceland (83.5) and Denmark (81.3). Australia came in fifth (77.3),…



The U.S. may be the richest country in the world, but its retirement system sure doesn’t show it. Once again, the United States earns an embarrassingly low overall score (63.0), ranking No. 22 out of 47 national pension systems, covering 64% of the world’s population according to Mercer’s retirement research. The three highest-ranking countries on the list for retirees are the Netherlands (85.0), Iceland (83.5) and Denmark (81.3). Australia came in fifth (77.3), the UK 10th (73.0) and Canada 12th (70.2). Argentina had the lowest index value (42.3). The information for this original article by Lorimer Wilson, Managing Editor of – Your KEY To Making Money! – was sourced from an article by Pete Grieve and Julia Glum. The United States now lands outside the top 20 countries in a new ranking of 47 national pension systems in the 2023 edition of the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, which analyzes countries based on more than 50 indicators in three categories: adequacy, sustainability and integrity.

The U.S. scored its highest rank (16th) in the sustainability category, which measures the likelihood of a country’s pension system being able to provide strong benefits in the future. This sub-index includes contribution rates, coverage of the private pension system and government debt, among other factors. The U.S. ranked 24th in the adequacy category which judges the extent to which pension systems provide sufficient retirement income. This category includes taxation incentives and vesting rules for retirement income programs. The integrity sub-index is about the regulation of retirement income programs, especially private-sector pensions and the laws that govern them and the U.S. ranks 41st here. The report provides several recommendations it says could help the U.S. increase its scores, including improving retirement income for lower-income people and limiting access to funds before retirement.

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Revenge travel is coming to an end, says industry CEO — a recession will replace it

The CEO of Intercontinental Hotels Group says that the world has moved beyond revenge travel–even China.



Maybe revenge isn't so sweet anymore. Not so long ago the term "revenge travel" was making the rounds. The idea was that people were so fed up with the covid-19 pandemic lockdown that they packed their bags and took off for just about anywhere once travel restrictions started to ease.

Related: Delta adds a route U.S. tourists have been begging for

Last year, travel insurance company Allianz Partners projected that travel to Europe would soar 600% over 2021. “The pandemic made people realize you can't take travel for granted and many Americans are eager to visit Europe this summer,” Daniel Durazo, director of external communications at Allianz Partners USA, said in an April 2022 statement.

'Last stage of pent-up demand'

The Summer of '23 was also pretty strong, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which found that almost a third, or 32.8%, of all U.S. households took a vacation between May and August, up from 28.5% in August 2022 and a record high in data going back to 2015. However, it looks like the revenge travel upswing is coming to an end. The Federal Reserve's Beige Book said in September that consumer spending on tourism was stronger than expected, "surging during what most contacts considered the last stage of pent-up demand for leisure travel from the pandemic era." Elie Maalouf also thinks that the revenge travel dish has gone cold. The CEO of Intercontinental Hotels Group  (IHG) - Get Free Report said in an interview with CNBC that he believes pent-up demand is over. "People started traveling really by the end of 2020 as restrictions started to lift,” he said. “So we’re really past revenge travel — even in China.” Intercontinental Hotel Group operates hotels under several brand names, including Regent, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, and Candlewood Suites. The company’s latest quarterly update showed travel demand remained strong during the close of the summer travel season. “We think we’re in a sustainable place,” Maalouf said. “Our bookings for groups and meetings going into 2024 and beyond are the strongest we’ve seen in a very long time.”

Average room rates increase

IHG’s third quarter trading update showed the company’s revenue per available room — or “revpar” — was up 10.5% compared to third quarter 2022, and nearly 13% higher compared with the third quarter of 2019, which was before the pandemic. This is despite a 3% drop in revpar, compared to 2019, in large cities in Greater China, which are more dependent on international travelers. Maalouf said that lack of “airlift,” or flight capacity, into China is below 50% of prepandemic levels, which is affecting travel recovery in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. “But if you look at the country as a whole, travel — which is mostly domestic in China — it’s recovered well above 2019,” he said, adding that more than 80% of IHG’s business in China is in mid-sized to smaller cities. Occupancy levels in the third quarter at IHG hotels was 72% — just 1% shy of pre-pandemic levels, according to the quarterly update. But average room rates have jumped well above 2019 levels — up nearly 6% in Greater China, 15% in the Americas, and 24% in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and Asia. But rising rates are barely keeping up with inflation, said Maalouf. “Room rates have not really exceeded inflation in any of our markets,” he said. “I think people’s willingness to travel is exhibited by the fact they’re willing to pay.” Get investment guidance from trusted portfolio managers without the management fees. Sign up for Action Alerts PLUS now.

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TCUS senior editor Kalpana Jain explores Indigenous communities in Indonesia − and learns about their struggles to reclaim land

The Conversation’s senior religion and ethics editor traveled the world to learn more about Indigenous populations. See one piece of what she discov…




Traditional grain houses inside a village chief's residential complex in West Java, Indonesia. Kalpana Jain

Kalpana Jain, senior religion and ethics editor at The Conversation, spent part of 2023 on a trip spanning over 20,000 miles, covering seven cities in three countries, as an East-West Center 2023 Senior Journalists Fellow to pursue issues around the role of religion and identity in the public sphere. On this trip, which included traveling near the border of Myanmar, Jain interviewed representatives from Indigenous communities, minority faith groups, journalists and activists, among many others. She reported on the rise in Buddhist and Hindu nationalism as well as the role of faith groups in promoting peace and care for the environment.

A 2009 Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Jain pursued many social justice issues as a journalist at The Times of India. Her reporting in India led to many policy changes in the public health sector and won several awards. In 2019, she received a Pulitzer grant to pursue issues around rising Hindu nationalism in India. Jain has also worked as an editor, writer and researcher at Harvard University. Her case study on modern-day slavery is part of a Harvard course, and her book on the AIDS epidemic in India is taught at many Indian universities. She holds a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a master’s in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School.

The piece below on the Indigenous community in Indonesia, first published in the Christian Science Monitor on Oct. 10, 2023, shows the depth of expertise on The Conversation team on global issues involving religion, ethics and the impact of colonialism in today’s world. The Conversation is very proud to share it.

CISUNGSANG VILLAGE, INDONESIA: Once isolated from the rest of the world, the Kasepuhan Cisungsang – an Indigenous community in Indonesia – has been inviting outsiders to get a glimpse into their lives.

Their village rests at the foot of Mount Halimun in western Java, a six-hour drive from the bustling megalopolis of Jakarta. When visitors arrive, a band of musicians dressed in flowing black robes and colorful headdresses greet them by playing the angklung, a traditional bamboo instrument, while young girls dance. The guests are shepherded into a spacious hut where a Kasepuhan Cisungsang representative explains that the community is led by the abah, or father, and that they’ve lived in this forested area since before Dutch colonization.

“Our ancestors have left us a message to protect and defend the environment,” says Raden Angga Kusuma, the abah’s eldest son and crown prince of the village.

Indonesia is home to an estimated 50 million to 70 million Indigenous individuals, or nearly 20% of the country’s population. However, Indigenous communities’ claims to their homeland are precarious, often hinging on a community’s ability to convince local authorities of their Indigeneity. Add to that pervasive stereotypes about Indigenous communities being anti-development or stuck in the past, and the challenge for many of the archipelago’s Indigenous leaders becomes retaining their traditional culture and customs while also evolving with the times. For the Kasepuhan Cisungsang, opening to visitors is part of that strategic thinking.

Through a translator, Kasepuhan Cisungsang elder Apih Jakar shares another saying from their ancestors: “Cope with the dynamics of time and adapt with it.”

Battle over land

For the Kasepuhan Cisungsang and the 56 other Kasepuhan groups living in the Halimun Salak area of Java, the battle for land rights dates back to the 19th century, when Dutch settlers failed to acknowledge the communities living in and around present-day Mount Halimun Salak National Park. The colonizers’ demarcations and land practices persisted after independence in 1945. Under Suharto, Indonesia’s second president, Indigenous land was converted into state forests and redistributed as private concessions to rubber, mining and palm oil companies.

Throughout the Suharto era “the Indonesian government argued that the country had to catch up and needed to achieve higher rates of growth,” says Timo Duile, an anthropologist at the University of Bonn who has spent years researching land rights in Indonesia. “That could be done by cooperation with the West and by opening the country to foreign capital. … Land was an important issue that created a lot of conflicts.”

It wasn’t until 2013 that a historic ruling known as MK35 provided Indigenous people the opportunity to reclaim ancestral land. However, this has proved to be a long and complicated process.

An independent mapping initiative has recorded over 50 million acres of Indigenous land in Indonesia, but only 15% has been recognized by the government. Critics blame the bottleneck on slow bureaucracy, poorly implemented and conflicting forest laws, and corporate land-grabbing.

But the first hurdle many communities face is proving their roots.

Proving Indigeneity

A community’s Indigeneity must be recognized by an administrative unit in a province, known as a kabupaten.

A group can qualify if they have markings as an Indigenous people, such as following customary laws and retaining unique social institutions, says Muhammad Arman, director of advocacy for policy, law and human rights at Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, or the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago. But many kabupatens have ill-defined regulations, and proving Indigeneity can depend on the whims of local politicians.

“If you wear modern clothes, the government can say you have changed socially and culturally and therefore are no longer a member of an Indigenous community,” says Arman. Legal recognition is also no guarantee that a community’s wishes will be respected.

Mama Rosita Tecuari is one of several leaders from the Namblong Indigenous community in Papua province fighting to defend their land from the expansion of a palm oil plantation. A company got the license and a permit to use the land without any consent from the 500 tribes settled there, says Tecuari. Even after local laws recognized the Namblong community’s right to the land in 2021, the company has not retreated.

A group of five Indonesian men sit on a rug in a sparse but elegant room with a hutch in back. This is a room where they receive visitors. The men are royalty in this Indonesian community
Crown Prince Raden Angga Kusuma, far left, sits with other inner circle members on a rug in a room where visitors are received. He says, ‘Our ancestors have left us a message to protect and defend the environment.’ Kalpana Jain

“It’s not that we don’t want development,” she says, they just don’t want it to come at the expense of the environment. “We in Papua think of forests as our own hearts. If you clear our forests, it is the same as killing us.”

Still, for Indigenous groups to have a shot at local autonomy, they must show that they retain their Indigeneity. “To get land rights, they have to prove continuity between past and present with Indigenous institutions and Indigenous laws,” says Duile. “They can be in a process of change but have to convince officials that they are the same.”

History of transformation

That emphasis on continuity means that Indigeneity can get conflated with primitiveness, says scholar Rebakah Daro Minarchek of the University of Washington.

For her 2019 dissertation, Rebakah Daro Minarchek spent years studying how three Kasepuhan communities, including Kasepuhan Cisungsang, were embracing technology.

After the central government brought the internet to Ciptagelar village through a universal connectivity program and built a TV station and a radio station, villagers trained youth to interview elders on traditions and record their musicians. One village leader even turned to YouTube videos to teach himself how to use GPS technology to map land boundaries.

Daro Minarchek also observed Ciptagelar village send two young men to Japan to learn how to do commercial gardening and increase productivity. Many Indigenous communities are hesitant about certain kinds of education that distance youth from the community, she explains, but they don’t look down on education.

In the case of Kasepuhan Cisungsang, the crown prince and a few others have been allowed to go to a university under the condition they will return to their village and their way of life.

In recent years, the village has also invited international visitors to attend an annual harvest festival, known as Seren Taun, a thanksgiving ceremony for all the blessings received during the year. The tradition was captured in a 2016 short documentary called “Harvest Moon Ritual.”

This adaptation isn’t new, Daro Minarchek notes, pointing to the community’s religious practices. The Kasepuhan Cisungsang currently practices Islam but incorporates it with ancestral practices, including shamanic animism, along with Hindu and Buddhist practices.

“To say that this is a community from 700 years ago that hasn’t caught up to the future is dehumanizing,” says Daro Minarchek.

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