How Technological Innovation Could Solve Ukraine’s War-Triggered Food Shortage

The war in Ukraine affects global agricultural production and imports, with implications for many populations; new technologies can solve this problem.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a humanitarian crisis that has left thousands of civilians dead and millions forced to flee their homes. In addition, the situation could worsen as severe disruptions to agriculture and fertilizer production in the region create food shortages and cause global food prices to skyrocket.

As the world prepares for what groups like the World Bank are calling a “human catastrophe,” new technological innovations are playing a key role in preventing empty shelves and starvation for people around the world. Since the dawn of agriculture, technology has made our food supply more accessible and accessible. And this innovation is needed more than ever, because we are watching the situation in Ukraine with great uncertainty.

Ukraine and Russia together account for almost a third of world wheat exports and 12% of all calories sold. But Ukrainian aggression and sanctions against Russia are causing exports of staple agricultural products such as wheat, sunflower oil and corn to fall. This situation is causing a wave of panic not only in importing countries, but also in the US, where President Joe Biden warned in April that the country could face a shortage of wheat-related products in the coming months.

That’s why we need to use digital and consumer technologies throughout the supply chain. Technology, as always, has the potential to transform agriculture and food production to reduce looming shortages and meet global needs. Three methods can strengthen the supply chain and help eliminate shortages:

1. Reduce food waste through recycling

Consumers, retailers and the restaurant industry generate over 900 million tons of food waste. Today, a new group of startups and tech innovators are reshaping our understanding of food waste with recycling technologies, recycling food that would never make it to our dinner table.

Upcycling involves the creation of food products with added value. Grain not used in processing plants is traditionally discarded, but it can be used to make flour and other food products. Technology is a way to increase our ability to use recycling to create value-added products that reduce food shortages and waste in the global supply chain.

2. Digitize our supply chains

The pandemic and conflict in Ukraine have made us more aware of the structural issues in our agricultural sector. Over the past two years, supply chain bottlenecks and pressure on growers and manufacturers have impacted our economy, business, and consumers.

But we can learn from the past; it’s time to make the supply chain more digitally dependent to change the way food is produced and distributed. And that means deploying tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data across the supply chain. These technologies will improve the safety and nutritional value of the products we produce. And it could allow us to better analyze production and transportation data to make the supply chain more resilient to shocks like the conflict in Ukraine.

3. Use satellite technology in agriculture

Agritech is changing the way we think about food production. And as we face threats to our supply chain, such as war and a pandemic, satellite technology will be an important step towards making our farming practices more transparent and efficient.

Satellites offer many benefits to growers who can monitor farms in real time and estimate yields and harvest times with great accuracy. The integration of satellite technology into agricultural practices is becoming more widespread and is making agriculture more productive and efficient.

A recent United Nations initiative, for example, includes programs such as CropWatch that use satellite methods and data to monitor crop health and then combine that data with other climate data on variables such as droughts, seasonal changes and disease to better manage food production.

As the conflict in Ukraine threatens to deprive hundreds of millions of people of a secure food supply, we need innovative solutions to change the way we produce, distribute and consume food. And it is to be expected that in the future, our supply chain will again be under threat: issues such as climate change, deforestation and water shortages are likely to cause food shortages and rising prices.

Supporting innovation and further adoption of technology in agriculture can help improve the scale, sustainability and accessibility of our food supply chain. From recycling to digitization to satellites, we have the tools to feed people in times of crisis.