Sensemaker: Food fallout

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Heavy downpours caused more floods in eastern Australia, killing 20 people and sending tens of thousands into evacuation.
  • Russia said it may close its main gas pipeline if the West goes ahead with a ban on Russian oil imports (more below).
  • Satellite images appeared to show that North Korea began repairing a closed nuclear site, which was shut in 2018 when leader Kim Jong-un promised to halt all nuclear tests.

Invaded: Voicemails from Ukraine

“There has been an airstrike warning. The way it works is there is a 5-6 minute flight time the rockets if they’re launched from Russian territory….In Kharkiv… the flight time is basically 20 seconds for them because they are right at the border with Russia.” Listen to Max and others today and every day in Invaded – Voicemails from Ukraine

Food fallout

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is upending the global food trade. Both countries are major suppliers of vegetable oil, fertilisers and grain – meaning supply disruptions are being felt all over the world.

  • Russia and Ukraine account for around 30 per cent of the world’s traded wheat. The price of wheat traded in Chicago, the international benchmark, has jumped more than 50 per cent since the invasion. Corn is up 10 per cent.
  • Sunflower oil from Ukraine, which with Russia accounts for three-quarters of global exports, is trading 50 per cent higher now than in June.
  • Fertiliser prices, which were already high before the war because of high gas prices, are rising rapidly. Russia produces enormous amounts of potash and phosphate, key fertiliser ingredients.

“Half the world’s population gets food as a result of fertilisers”, says Svein Tore Holsether, chief executive of Yara International, a global fertiliser manufacturer. “And if that’s removed from the field for some crops, [the yield] will drop by 50 per cent.”

Yara, which operates in 60 countries, is an example of a company hit from every angle in the war: it normally buys large amounts of raw materials from Russia, a missile hit its office in Kyiv, and it’s struggling to secure deliveries due to disruption to the shipping industry.

Ukraine suspended all commercial shipping at its ports after the invasion. Vessels cannot get loaded and cannot leave. Ships that had already sailed out are now stuck in the Sea of Azov, the northeastern tip of the Black Sea. This means losses for businesses like Yara, but is also a big setback for humanitarian efforts.

Ukraine, whose farmers have left their fields to take up arms against Russian troops, no longer sends agricultural goods to South East Asia, the Middle East and Africa or to NGOs such as the World Food Programme. The UN’s world food price index – which was already running high because of conflict, climate change, and Covid – reached a new all-time high in February. Wheat prices have now surpassed levels last seen during the 2008 global food crisis, which sparked protests. 

“Just when you think hell on earth can’t get any worse,” said David Beasley, World Food Programme director, “it does.”

Know more

The magician

Simon Barnes

Magic is a sporting word. Outlets that pride themselves on their quality, sobriety, accuracy and objectivity routinely ascribe magical qualities to great athletes like Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Simone Biles, Tiger Woods, Lewis Hamilton, Ben Stokes, Serena Williams…

And with the death of the Australian cricketer Shane Warne, from an apparent heart attack at 52, we have read again and again that he could bowl “a magic ball”, that he would habitually “weave his magic”. 

It seems that we need magic, or something we can call magic, and therefore we need magicians.


The S&P 500, America’s main stock market index, fell by 3 per cent – its biggest decline in 16 months. Analysts blamed the surging price of US oil, which rose to $130 overnight on the prospect of a full embargo of Russian oil imports. Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, then issued a statement rejecting an embargo on the grounds that Europe could not source enough energy elsewhere, and the price settled at around $120 by the close of trading. But that level is still high enough to continue to fuel consumer inflation. Russia’s deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said a “rejection of Russian oil would lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market”. For more on how Europe could do without Russian energy, see today’s Net Zero Sensemaker.


Florida abortion
When we reported last year on the potential for abortion “deserts” in the US if Roe v Wade was undermined by Mississippi legislation being considered in the Supreme Court, a particular concern was the south-east. For women in the region, travelling to Florida looked like it could become the only option for accessing abortion. But that could change. Championed by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, the state has passed a law mimicking Mississippi’s that would ban abortion after 15 weeks if upheld by the courts. A decision on Mississippi is expected from the Supreme Court in the next few months. To note: it looks like access to at-home abortion pills that were permanently approved by the FDA for early pregnancy to support clinics during the pandemic has meant women in Texas have still been able to access abortion despite the state’s new six-week abortion ban. 


Snake Island
Sources in the Ukrainian military said they destroyed one of the two Russian warships that attacked Snake Island, a rocky outcrop in the Black Sea. The Vasily Bykov, the warship, appears to have been hit during a firefight yesterday. The Times has seen a video of the fight in which a Ukrainian naval officer can be heard invoking a Ukrainian soldier’s words from when the island was attacked, saying: “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.” The attack on Snake Island is at the centre of Ukraine’s information war with Russia, as this week’s Slow Newscast shows.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Healthcare attacks
There have been at least 14 confirmed attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, according to the World Health Organization. Nine people have reportedly died and 16 have been injured as a result, and most incidents are listed as “violence with heavy weapons”, meaning larger equipment like tanks and mortars was used. The WHO has called out the violence as “violating international law” and the list of Putin’s alleged war crimes is growing. They are like “something out of The Hunger Games”, says Leila Nadya Sadat, special advisor on crimes against humanity to the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. The ICC is already collating evidence from Ukraine. Its challenge will be to prove these attacks targeted civilians rather than killing them accidentally as part of efforts to destroy military targets.  

covid by numbers

2 in 3 – people who have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, globally.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Amazon tipping point
Large parts of the Amazon rainforest are in failing health and close to a tipping point beyond which trees could die off en masse, according to a new study from the University of Exeter, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Technical University of Munich. Using three decades of satellite data, researchers found that the rainforest’s trees are losing their ability to bounce back from damage caused by droughts, fires, and deforestation, leading to a negative feedback loop that could turn most of the Amazon into savannah, whether logged or not. This would turn the world’s greatest natural carbon sink, parts of which already emit more carbon than they sequester, into a net CO2 emitter. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to

Paul Caruana-Galizia

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Marcus Yam/LA Times/Getty Images, Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

in the tortoise app today