Food supply shortages hit a record high in April, as the ongoing Russia–Ukraine conflict continues to impact worldwide food exports, data from S&P Global published on Monday suggested.
According to the survey, manufacturers worldwide reported sustained price and supply pressures during the last month, while the Global Supply Shortages Index signaled that shortages were just under seven times higher than the normal level, unchanged from March’s four-month high.
“Supply shortages surged in April to reach a joint-record level as the war in Ukraine continued to hit global food exports,” said S&P Global economist Usamah Bhatti.
Meanwhile, food price increases were the second-highest on record.
Freight capacity remained the most impacted, S&P Global said, with reports of shortages at the highest since last December.
“Transport capacity remains the most severely affected, with reports of a lack of logistical capacity nearly 32 times above the normal level, as vessel shortages and port congestion continue to disrupt the supply of materials. At the same time, while price pressures eased, firms reported that freight costs were rising at 11 times the normal speed,” Bhatti said.
The survey comes after U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last month urged world leaders to take concrete actions to address the effect of rising food costs.
Food prices across the world rose at their fastest pace on record in March, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), rising 13 percent over the month to 159.3 points, an all-time high.
“This threat touches the most vulnerable people the hardest—families that are already spending disproportionate amounts of their income on food. Moreover, the interconnectedness of the global food system means that people on every continent are impacted,” Yellen said at the “Tackling Food Insecurity—The Challenge and Call to Action” meeting on April 19.
While Yellen noted that prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, over 800 million people were suffering from chronic food insecurity, the Treasury secretary said that the conflict has further exacerbated the situation and “has made an already dire situation worse.”
“I want to be clear: Russia’s actions are responsible for this,” Yellen said. “But the United States is urgently working with our partners and allies to help mitigate the effects of Russia’s reckless war on the world’s most vulnerable.”
U.S. officials have repeatedly warned of food shortages prompted by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, both of which are among the top producers of agricultural commodities in the world; specializing in staple products such as wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds, and sunflower oil.
S&P Global’s survey comes after industry experts said at a hearing last week that rail backlogs and other issues impacting the freight rail network in the United States are delaying the shipment of grains, and putting further pressure on inflation.
Shippers said that factors including a string of labor supply cuts, storing locomotives to save fuel, and increasing train length to as long as three miles (4.8 km), have contributed to the delays, and created more congestion.
However, rail carriers blame the delays on extreme weather and a surge in demand at the end of last year along with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to the Surface Transportation Board earlier this month (pdf), the president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, a coalition of 37 member unions, blamed service disruptions and delays in part on a lack of workers.
“The notion that our nation’s food supply chain is threatened by the continued negligence and intransigence of the railroad industry is both stunning and unacceptable,” President Greg Regan wrote, while noting that some of the biggest railway operators in the United States, including Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s BNSF Railway, Union Pacific Corp., and Norfolk Southern Corp., all cut their railway employment significantly in the five years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elsewhere on Monday, S&P Global said global price pressures were also unchanged from March at the start of the second quarter, while the costs of electrical items reached their highest level since May 2021.