How Is War Affecting Your Grocery Bill?


The Daily strives to reveal a new idea in every episode. Below, we share additional reporting from Jack Nicas, Brazil bureau chief for The New York Times, on some of the ideas in Tuesday’s show.

Everything was already a mess before the war started.

In the last few years, the compounding shocks of the coronavirus and the climate crisis dismantled the global supply chain. With ships stuck at sea, warehouses overflowing and trucks without drivers, Americans who had grown used to getting their goods on-demand were suddenly required to practice a maddening, archaic virtue: patience.

Everyone hoped it would be over soon — that Target shelves would be restocked, timely Amazon Prime deliveries would resume and groceries would stop being so expensive. Then came the bad news: The war in Ukraine has added another strain to the highly intricate and interconnected global supply chain. And as you heard on Tuesday, there is no end in sight.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and global sanctions against Moscow have rippled through logistics and supply chains, creating bottlenecks in the transport of goods and commodities and threatening fresh economic pain for countries and businesses near the conflict zone.

Transport companies, maritime insurance executives and industry analysts say the war, combined with uncertainty fueled by the sanctions, is causing backups of ships at some ports and could lead to longer delays in shipments, especially around Europe.

And then there are food prices, which have climbed to their highest level in more than a decade largely because of the pandemic’s supply chain mess, according to a recent United Nations report. A crucial portion of the world’s wheat, corn and barley is trapped in Russia and Ukraine because of the war, while an even larger portion of the world’s fertilizers is stuck in Russia and Belarus. The result is that global food and fertilizer prices are soaring. Since the invasion, wheat prices have increased by 21 percent, barley by 33 percent and some fertilizers by 40 percent.

The upheaval is compounded by major challenges that were already increasing prices and squeezing supplies, including the pandemic, shipping constraints, high energy costs and recent droughts, floods and fires.

Now economists, aid organizations and government officials are warning of the repercussions: an increase in world hunger.

The looming disaster is laying bare the consequences of a major war in the modern era of globalization. Prices for food, fertilizer, oil, gas and even metals like aluminum, nickel and palladium are all rising fast — and experts expect worse as the effects cascade.

“Ukraine has only compounded a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe,” said David M. Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, the United Nations agency that feeds 125 million people a day. “There is no precedent even close to this since World War II.”

Farms in Ukraine are about to miss critical planting and harvesting seasons. Fertilizer plants in Europe are significantly cutting production because of high energy prices. Farmers from Brazil to Texas are cutting back on fertilizer, threatening the size of the next harvests.

Around the world, the result will be even higher grocery bills. In February, U.S. grocery prices were already up 8.6 percent over the year before, the largest increase in 40 years, according to government data. Economists expect the war to further inflate those prices.

For those living on the brink of food insecurity, the latest surge in prices could push many over the edge. After remaining mostly flat for five years, hunger rose by about 18 percent during the pandemic to between 720 million and 811 million people. This month, the United Nations said that the war’s impact on the global food market alone could cause an additional 7.6 million to 13.1 million people to go hungry.

While virtually every country will face higher prices, some places could struggle to find enough food at all. Rising prices and hunger also present a potential new dimension to the world’s view of the war. Could they further fuel anger at Russia and calls for intervention? Or would frustration be targeted at the Western sanctions that are helping to trap food and fertilizer?

The reality is, the “efficient,” interconnected supply chain was always precarious. And it will continue to be subject to increasingly devastating shocks brought on by the climate crisis. Now, governments around the world are asking how to create resilience in the face of coming calamities. The answer, though, may require asking how to remake the system entirely.

We have some exciting news: Still Processing, our culture podcast, is coming back on April 14.

The show is going to sound a little different this season. Jenna Wortham, co-host of the podcast, is on book leave, so Wesley Morris is going to have solo hosting duties for most of the spring. He’ll be joined by a stellar cast of guests, including Daphne Brooks to talk pop culture hierarchies, Hanif Abdurraqib to examine television theme songs (and that polarizing “skip intro” button) and Bill Simmons on what happens when athletes try to act.

Listen to the trailer to get a taste of this season — and to find out what Jenna has been up to (spoiler alert: black holes!). Look out for new episodes on Thursdays.

Monday: Behind a federal judge’s ruling that Donald J. Trump most likely committed a crime in trying to stop the certification of the 2020 election.

Tuesday: How the war in Ukraine is creating a food crisis across the world.

Wednesday: Outrage is growing over the atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine. But holding perpetrators to account can be a complex task.


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