The years 2020 and 2021 will be remembered for the pandemic, lockdowns, and financial chaos they brought.  Will 2022 be remembered for Dustbowl conditions and a shocking shortage of food?  Three months into the year, this is starting to look increasingly likely.     

Of course, prevailing conditions don’t have to continue on their current trajectory.  For example, a ceasefire in Ukraine would mean that the food and fertilizer industries could get back to normal; a few storms in strategic areas out west would help crops thrive.  And these events are certainly possible.

But so far, they haven’t happened.  Unless they do so soon, expect to see more pictures of dried-up river beds, reservoirs again falling to all-time low levels, and more empty shelves in supermarkets.     


Going West To East?

A few months ago, soaking rains began falling in areas out west that desperately needed them, and for a while it looked as if the drought was finally over.  Unfortunately, this optimism was premature, and now it appears that the drought is not over and may even be spreading further east. 

Kansas is the leading US producer of wheat, but according to one respected agricultural website, there has been little rain or snow there since October.

According to, winter wheat is planted in the fall.  However, the crop only begins to sprout in the spring, and when it does, it needs moist soil to grow properly. That’s a problem because as of early March more than half of Kansas was experiencing severe drought or worse.  Moreover, winter wheat in three quarters of Oklahoma, two thirds of Texas, and other important producing states are also being impacted by a scarcity of rains. 


Occupational Hazards And More

Drought is an occupational hazard for farmers, but this year they’ll have to deal with even more problems.  Among these: a war blocking food from being exported and fertilizers from being imported, soaring energy prices, and a host of other challenges related to the pandemic and shipping supplies. 

The bottom line: Food will be much more expensive for everyone, and for some it may not be available at any price.  Increasing food stress, hunger, and even famine are now very real problems for many millions of people and numerous countries.

“The war in Ukraine has only compounded a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe,” said David M. Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a UN agency that feeds 125 million people a day.  “There is no precedent even close to this since World War II.” 

According MSN, Ukrainian farmers are about to miss crucial planting deadlines for their farms, and a growing number of countries have banned exporting grains and other foods they produce for their own needs.  Given these developments, is it any wonder why the price of food is skyrocketing? 


Food Fight

In March 2020, soon after the pandemic broke out, brawls erupted in supermarkets in the US and Australia over dwindling supplies of toilet tissues.  If a shortage of such a quasi-essential item generated such violent reactions, how would people respond to a shortage of food? 

For a possible answer, we should look at what just happened in Russia, as they are both telling and sobering. Videos show crowds of shoppers in a supermarket pushing, shouting, fighting, and literally climbing over each other -- all this to get some of the few packs of sugar that had become available. 

Russian stores already had been rationing sugar, but shoppers decided they weren’t strict enough and decided to pick up the slack.  One man observed with five packets of sugar in his cart was attacked for panic buying and punched in the face five times.  Given the pressures of widespread shortages, incidents like this could become much more frequent.  


The New Gold?

People will go to any extreme to survive, and governments do whatever is necessary to stay in power.  Food shortages are threatening because they could easily lead to rioting, revolution, and heightened tensions between neighbors and countries as nations jostle for crucial supplies. The Arab Spring, with the rioting and violence it generated, is proof of that.

The surge in prices has already pushed many people on the verge of food insecurity over the edge and many more will follow them.  According to The New York Times, “Armenia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Eritrea have imported virtually all of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine and must find new sources.  But they are competing against much larger buyers including Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh and Iran, which have obtained more than 60 percent of their wheat from the two warring countries.” They will also be bidding against other countries in the Middle East, Africa, and other regions.

Meanwhile China, which has had its worst crop in decades, wants more of the world’s dwindling food supply.  India exports only a small quantity of wheat, but demand for that tripled from last year.  In the US, experts are warning that the winter wheat harvests could be dramatically below their usual levels.

Ben Isaacson, an agriculture analyst with Scotiabank, recalled that since the 1970s, North Africa and the Middle East have experienced repeated uprisings. “What actually led to people going into the streets and protesting?  It started from food shortages and from food price inflation,” he explained.  And those problems are not restricted to only those regions of the world

Anyone under the impression that food inflation and shortages are just being hyped must have been shocked last week.  Speaking at a news conference on his trip to Brussels, President Biden said that these were real issues as a result of the war in Ukraine.

“The price of the sanctions is not just imposed upon Russia. It’s imposed upon an awful lot of countries as well, including European countries and our country as well.”  And the price they would pay for sanctions is food inflation and shortages.

It’s by no means certain that chaos lies ahead, but no one can rule out that possibility either.  Desperate people are capable of doing extreme things - and so are desperate nations.  The events that transpire in the following months need to be followed very carefully. 


Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.