"Nothing can eclipse the scale of the humanitarian crisis currently being experienced and witnessed in Ukraine.

It underlines the fragility and the vulnerability of people everywhere. The word ‘solidarity’ has been used often by many in recent days, not least by our own UK farming union leaders. There must also be a unity of purpose that we’ll all put our shoulders to the wheel and feel glad that we are able to do so.

The economic, food security and farm business implications (and costs) of the current crisis pale into insignificance when set against the suffering we’re all witnessing.

Supporting Ukraine and its people at this time is paramount. The human cost of the invasion within Ukraine is already tragic, but the possibility of other potential impacts due to the country's importance to the global agriculture market can be neither understated nor ignored.

With the invasion of Ukraine advancing by the minute and sanctions towards Russia increasing, the importance of Ukraine when it comes to agriculture, and numerous other industries, is becoming more and more clear.

With global supply chains already highly vulnerable, and many countries around the world reliant on Ukraine's agricultural produce as well as Russia’s not insignificant food and gas supplies, a rise in grain prices or a significant drop in production is certain to have huge knock-on effects – for food consumers as well as food producers.

History also tells us that when grain is suddenly out of reach, it’s the poorest that suffer first and hardest, running the risk of compounding the humanitarian crisis. There are clearly issues of supply, but when prices rise sharply it’s a failure of demand – the ability to purchase – which determines who goes hungry.

Ukraine is a powerhouse of agricultural production, driven by the significant abundance of the world’s most fertile ‘chernozem’ soils. This fertile land is behind Ukraine’s grain strength, helping it to become one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and maize, as well as the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil. Ukraine is estimated to contribute 12% of global wheat exports.

But physically producing commodities is only ever part of the story. When the supply and demand of grain is suddenly thrown out of kilter, the ramifications can be severe and widespread. Global wheat markets were already tighter this year than usual because there were reduced harvests while, at the same time, demand has been strong. That has made wheat markets vulnerable to any supply shock.

With the Black Sea export routes now effectively closed, the cliff-edge decline in exports of Ukrainian wheat, barley and maize is now having a major effect on the already very tight global grain markets. Exports from the Ukraine are effectively landlocked – making them out of reach. This will drive prices up, even if an estimated two-thirds of Ukraine’s last annual wheat and barley and one-third of the maize crop has already been exported.

And we must remember that the three Fs of food, fuel and fertiliser are inextricably linked.

The actions of Russia and the counteractions of wide-ranging sanctions and restrictions represent a further major concern because of the likely effect on oil, gas and fertiliser availability and surging markets that are already at record price levels. Inevitable supply disruption will stretch availability to breaking point, let alone affordability.

The aftershocks of an appalling humanitarian crisis will be felt well beyond the field of conflict, but our thoughts are firmly with the Ukrainian nation at this dreadful time.

(This blog was first published on nfus.org.uk)