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How Russia Prepared For War By Weaponizing Food Supply


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When Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro visited Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, he implied he did so to save Brazil and the Western world from an escalating food shortage.

Most Americans gauge the economy by prices at the gas pump, and the Biden administration is undoubtedly nervous about banning Russian oil, a critical import the U.S. has become reliant upon. But apart from petroleum products, Russia controls an even more vital chemical compound known as ammonium nitrate, one of the two main sources of nitrogen fertilizer, a key component of the global food supply.

Fertilizer prices more than doubled last year and multiplied fivefold since October 2020 as a result of escalating natural gas prices and other factors. This hampered production of ammonia needed for nitrogen fertilizers. Having control over approximately two-thirds of the world’s production of ammonium nitrate, the Kremlin has significant leverage over the world’s food supply.

So it probably came as no surprise to many on Friday when Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade urged its fertilizer producers to suspend exports while blaming the west for “sabotaging deliveries” to farmers in Europe and other countries.” But even before western sanctions kicked in — and three weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin preemptively weaponized the food supply to give Russia a strategic advantage.

On Feb. 1, the Kremlin issued a “temporary ban” on the export of all ammonium nitrate from Feb. 2 until April 1, purportedly to guarantee more affordable fertilizer for Russian farmers.

“Additional demand has arisen on the domestic market for ammonium nitrate from both agricultural producers and industrial businesses,” Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture said on its website then.

When this temporary ban of an otherwise seemingly obscure compound element was issued, few outside the fossil fuel and chemical industry probably noticed or cared. In retrospect, however, it seems more than coincidental that Mr. Putin chose to restrict the exportation of the key chemical compound needed to produce fertilizer, which the world is now clawing for to avoid a food shortage.

Before Russia’s invasion, food prices were already at a 10-year high as a result of the pandemic slowing production and shipping, and they’re about to get worse — much worse.

“If Brazil’s farmers have to pay significantly more for fertilizer or are unable to produce as many crops, the cost of its agricultural products is likely to climb, driving up food prices,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. “Brazil is also an important supplier of corn and beef. Higher grain prices increase animal-feed costs, which are passed on to consumers, who have to pay more for meat and other animal products.”

When Mr. Bolsonaro returned from Moscow, he justified the move by saying, “Brazil depends on fertilizers … it’s a sacred question for us.”

Unfortunately, it’s also a “sacred question” for the world. Because while gasoline shortages can be crippling, food shortages can be devastating. The more frightening issue about to appear on the horizon may not even be how much food is going to cost, but rather how hard it’s going to be to buy food at all.

Each country may soon need to make the hard choice of how to allocate its natural gas. It can (1) be used for fuel for electric power plants and heating; (2) be fuel for petroleum transportation products; and (3) be feedstock to produce ammonia to manufacture fertilizer and grow food.

Going into the warmer spring and summer seasons will reduce the heating load, but electrical power will still be needed for air conditioning and higher refrigeration demands. Without an ample supply of fertilizer, the world will most likely face substantial shortages.

However, there is a potential light at the end of the tunnel — that light being coal and nuclear energy, of which there is significant supply in the U.S. and many other nations. Even as a temporary measure, the U.S. could reactivate some of its coal power generation and nuclear plants that it abandoned as a result of the shift toward “green energy.”

If the U.S. revisits the use of more conventional power generation methods, it will be spared making the hard choice on how to allocate natural gas while remaining independent of Russian products.

Authored by Jeff Scott Shapiro via Washington Times

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