Experts around the world are warning of dire food shortages. What are the root causes of these shortages, and how do they fit in Bible prophecy?
The UN has issued a dire warning of a “perfect storm” of crises, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that will impact the global community. In our ever-more-connected and complex world, an event in one area can have ripple effects that send reverberations across the globe.
Before the war, global food security was already fragile, but now the world is facing a truly frightening future. The Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted the world trade in food, threatening food security for around one-fifth of the world’s population—up to 1.7 billion people.
Though this crisis was triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war, its roots go deeper. Various issues have compounded the problem, giving world leaders real cause for concern.
Here are some of the crises we are facing.
A crisis of supply
Both Russia and Ukraine have traditionally played a big part in the global food supply. Consider the following stats:
- Russia and Ukraine supply about a quarter of world wheat exports.
- Ukraine is a big exporter of corn, barley and rapeseed oil, and it supplies nearly half of the world’s sunflower oil.
Before Russia’s invasion, most of Ukraine’s food exports went through its Black Sea ports, especially Odessa, which, when the war began, suffered under a Russian blockade for months. The Odessa grain terminal, which would normally process 400 tons of grain in a single hour, was brought to a halt due to the war.
The EU, desperate to resolve the grain shortages, has sought solutions for Ukraine grain to be transported by rail or trucks, but security is extremely perilous. Russia has continued to attack civilian infrastructure to try to bring Ukraine to its knees. Nations and organizations have warned Russia not to deter food supplies from going out, and a fragile agreement to allow grain shipments from Odessa was signed in Istanbul July 22. Still, Russia seems intent on using hunger as a weapon.
To counter Russian aggression, Western nations have imposed economic sanctions that have impacted Russian exports, including grain. And the EU has extended sanctions to include Belarus, because it has helped Russia in its war efforts.
Future crops—of all types—around the globe are also being impacted by sanctions. Today’s high-yield crops rely on fertilizers, and the three basic plant nutrients found in most fertilizers—nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—will all be in short supply.
- Russia and Belarus are the second- and third-largest producers of potash, which is used as the main ingredient in potassium-rich fertilizers. Together these two countries account for 40 percent of the world’s potash exports.
- Russia is a key supplier of nitrogen-based fertilizers and the world’s largest exporter of nitrogen-based fertilizers and phosphates.
Shortages of fertilizers will contribute to a decline in food production and rising food prices that will be felt worldwide, and especially in the poorest nations and communities.
Oil and gas prices
To make matters worse, Russia is the world’s top exporter of natural gas and the second-largest exporter of oil. Even before the Russia-Ukraine war, there was already a shortage of natural gas and oil, as demand dramatically increased when pandemic restrictions eased.
Industrial farming—and the transportation required to get crops to market—is extremely energy-intensive. With the triple whammy of soaring fertilizer prices, rising energy prices and increasing transportation costs, tight profit margins are squeezing farmers.
In such unstable conditions, speculative futures markets are also causing prices to rise. Some farmers are choosing to forgo planting this year, as they see their costs outweighing profits. This will put even greater pressures on the global food supply. And some fear many farmers will never return, as price increases put profitability out of reach.
The rising price of energy has a ripple effect that impacts every aspect of our lives, especially agriculture and our food.
In addition to everything else, weather disruptions are having a serious impact on the global food supply. Almost every major wheat-producing nation is facing weather disruptions that will affect crop outputs. (Ironically, however, Russia is expected to have a bumper crop.)
India has been experiencing an extreme heat wave, destroying up to 15 percent of the wheat crop.
India had hoped to boost its exports to make up for the reduced supply caused by the Russia-Ukraine war. However, the heat wave has caused the government to make a dramatic policy reversal and ban the export of wheat altogether to focus on domestic supply. This caused a 6 percent rise in the wheat futures market.
China is facing worsening conditions due to extreme flooding that will affect its wheat production.
The wheat crop in Europe is at risk due to high temperatures and lack of rain in France and Spain.
The United States is the fourth-largest wheat exporter, and it is facing an even more dire situation. Heavy rains hit North Dakota, allowing farmers to plant only 27 percent of their crop at the normal time. Drought in Kansas has had a major impact on wheat production. The winter crop is down by 25 percent, and wheat fields are being abandoned in some parts of Kansas.
Similar situations are affecting Canada—either it’s too wet to plant or too dry for seed to germinate.
Protectionism and increasing costs
As the Western nations move further away from God and basic morality, the blessings they have enjoyed will be taken away, and their troubles will increase.As governments see worsening food security issues, there is a tendency for them to adopt protectionist policies to ensure supplies for their populations. From Latin America to Asia, and from the Middle East to Africa, nations have declared severe restrictions on food exports, with some nations declaring food emergencies.
India is restricting exports of wheat and sugar. Indonesia has banned export of palm oil. Malaysia has banned export of chickens.
Food price inflation is spreading worldwide. Since 2020, the United States, Germany and India have seen 10 to 15 percent increases. Egypt and Pakistan are seeing 30 to 35 percent increases in their food price indexes.
Households in richer nations spend less than 10 percent of their income on food, but households in poorer nations are not so fortunate. They spend over 40 percent of their income on food. So, increasing food costs will severely impact poorer nations.
Social and political instability
The gravity of what lies ahead cannot be overstated. Consider the results of an earlier crisis.
In 2010 severe weather in Russia caused a shortage of wheat. The third-largest exporter of wheat saw 20 percent of its wheat destroyed by severe drought and wildfires, and its production output was down by 30 percent. Since weather conditions hit neighboring countries as well, wheat prices were sent soaring.
The rising prices helped lead to instability in the Middle East. Long-ruling political leaders in several nations were toppled. In Egypt, for instance, the high cost of wheat played a part in uprisings that ultimately overthrew the government and led to the Muslim Brotherhood grabbing power in 2011-12. A civil war was ignited in Syria.
Today, rising food prices have a real risk of causing major unrest, not only in North Africa and the Middle East, but also in Latin America, where Peru has declared its agricultural sector to be in an emergency.
Black horse of famine
The cascading effects of war, rising energy and fertilizer prices, unstable weather and protectionism are causing dramatic price increases for everything we buy. World trade is breaking down, and real threats of famines and starvation are on the horizon.
Inflation is also pushing the price of goods up, and a rise in prices in one area tends to have a ripple effect, causing price increases in other areas as businesses pass on their costs.
How bad can it get?
Jesus warned of famines (Matthew 24:7). This is depicted as a black horse in the book of Revelation. The rider is described as having a “pair of scales in his hand,” and he is told to measure a “quart of wheat” and “three quarts of barley” for a “denarius,” but at the same time to “not harm the oil and the wine” (Revelation 6:5-6; see our article “What Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?”).
The sale of such small quantities of wheat and barley for a denarius indicates a severe famine, where food is scarce or even rationed. According to many commentators, a denarius was roughly the equivalent of a working man’s daily wage. The “quart of wheat” is enough to feed a single person, but not an entire family. The “three quarts of barley” indicates that the inferior and less desirable barley could be bought for a day’s wages, probably to feed a small family.
This shows us that in the future, food will become so scarce that individuals or families will likely have to spend a day’s wage for just one meal.
Why will this occur?
God warned in the Old Testament that the curse for disobedience would include famines, when people would eat bread “by weight” and not have enough to be satisfied (Leviticus 26:26).
Beyond that, we also read about even greater disobedience that would lead to famines so destructive that people would resort to cannibalism to survive (verses 27-29). This unthinkable situation actually occurred in ancient Israel and Judah (2 Kings 6:25-29; Jeremiah 19:9), and worse times are prophesied for the future.
Cause and effect
Though many people think famines happen only in African nations and won’t affect those in affluent countries, the Bible warns that famines will be a curse God uses to punish nations for their disobedience to God’s laws.
We have seen recently how supermarkets have struggled to stock their shelves due to the supply chain crisis. So, it’s not hard to imagine how a “perfect storm” of crises could further break down food supplies, leaving many hungry or even dying from starvation.
As the Western nations move further away from God and basic morality, the blessings they have enjoyed will be taken away, and their troubles will increase.
God warns the modern descendants of Israel of the same penalties for disobedience that their forefathers experienced: “If you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant . . . I will even appoint terror over you” (Leviticus 26:15-16). For further study, see “What Is Jacob’s Trouble in End-Time Prophecy?”
Prior to the black horse of Revelation is the red horse of war. The rider of the red horse is described as one who has a “great sword” to “take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another” (Revelation 6:4).
Jesus described it this way: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars,” and “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6-7).
War between Russia and Ukraine has been the trigger that has threatened upcoming famine. What will future wars bring?
Following the black horse is the pale horse, whose rider is named Death. This rider will take the lives of a quarter of the earth’s population. This occurs as a result of war and hunger, as well as diseases and natural disasters (Revelation 6:8; Matthew 24:7).
If left unchecked, the four horsemen could lead to humanity’s destruction.
But God will not allow that to happen (Matthew 24:21-22). He will send Jesus back to this earth to save us from ourselves. The return of the Son of God—who is depicted as the Horseman with a sword on the real white horse (Revelation 19:11-21)—will end the rides of the four horsemen of false religion, war, famine and pestilence.
Until then, Jesus admonishes His disciples to “watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
To study more about the end times and what is ahead, download our free booklet How to Understand Prophecy.