Are Three Seas Countries Food Independent?

One of the global challenges related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is food security. Are Three Seas countries food secure?

The hands of a farmer close-up holding a handful of wheat grains in a wheat field. Copy space of the setting sun rays on horizon in rural meadow Close up nature photo Idea of a rich harvest
Photo: maxbelchenko / stock.adobe.com

This question seems to be simple, but unfortunately, it is not. Global food production and processing involve a highly sophisticated set of national and international interdependencies between markets, countries, and continents. First, there are numerous food products, many of which constitute separate complex global or regional markets. Second, markets for food products are strongly related to each other.

Numerous food products are directly consumed by humans, either processed or in a natural state, and also used as animal feed or even biofuel. Food production and food prices depend not only on changing weather conditions but also on the availability of other resources such as fuels, fertilizers, machinery, pesticides, and a series of other products. So, unfortunately, countries are often not food-independent.

Growing barriers – food export

First, the Covid pandemic and then the war in Ukraine shook most of the markets, including those directly or indirectly related to global food production. Before the war, Russia, the 3rd largest wheat producer in the world, was the global leader in wheat exports, and Ukraine was the 8th largest wheat producer and 5th largest wheat exporter. The situation was similar for other significant staples, like sunflower oil exports, corn, and ammonium fertilizers. Food security and self-sufficiency have become crucial again. Thus, Ukraine food exports were significant.

The basic indicator of food self-sufficiency is the relation between the local production and consumption of food or between exports and imports. Having these complexities in mind, one may assume that countries producing (or exporting) more food products than they consume (or import) can be considered food secure. What is the state of food security in our region?

All but two countries in our region are net exporters of grains. Bulgaria seems to be in the best situation in this respect

On an aggregate level, the situation of the countries of the region strongly varies. Only 5 of 12 countries are total net exporters of food and food products (in terms of their value). These are: Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and (marginally) Latvia. The relation of exports to imports of food products in Poland in 2021 was 1.6, meaning that the value of the country’s food exports was 60% higher than the value of food imports. Other countries are net importers. Poland is also the largest exporter of food, with total exports in 2021 amounting to EUR 30 billion. On the other hand, Lithuania has the highest level of food exports per capita, with the value per Lithuanian citizen reaching EUR 1,477 in 2021.

A positive outlook

Although the number of net importers of food in our region is smaller than the number of food importers, the total “regional balance” is positive. In 2021, the value of food exports from Three Seas countries was EUR 8.3 billion (11.6%) higher than that of food imports.

The situation looks even better on the part of the global food market currently considered to be most severely hit by the war. All but two countries in our region are net exporters of grains. Bulgaria seems to be in the best situation in this respect, exporting 550% more grains than it imports. Slovenia is on the other end of the scale, with grain imports 26% higher than exports. On average, the countries of our region export 132% more grains than they import.

In general, considering all the basic groups of food products, our region is a net importer of only a few of them. These are fish (SITC code 03), vegetables and fruits (SITC code 05), coffee, tea, cocoa, and spices (SITC code 07), and animal feed (SITC code 08).

Therefore, it seems that similar to the other parts of the European Union, food security is not a challenge for our region. Consumers will experience serious price increases, and producers will encounter supply and financial challenges in specific markets. However, the overall situation will not result in food shortages. The common European market is also an important factor helping us stay relatively safe.

The situation will be much worse in poorer regions of the world, mainly those of the global south. Famine there is a serious global threat. It is our responsibility not to let it happen.

If you are interested in the European economy, you should also read the article on unicorns in Europe.

Mateusz Walewski

Chief economist of BGK (Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego) since 2018. Previously worked among other for PwC and CASE - Center for Social and Economic Research. Participant of numerous research projects and advisory services for the private sector and governments across Central and Eastern Europe. Member of the Team of Strategic Advisors to the Prime Minister of Poland in years 2008-2010. Author of publications and consultancy reports on macroeconomics, labor market and social policy issues. A graduate of the University of Warsaw and the University of Sussex.

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