Just as 2020 will be remembered as the year the world came to a stop because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 may be remembered for a global food security crisis that was severely aggravated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The disruption of supply chains from crop-rich Ukraine and Russia meant many grief-stricken countries outside the European Union would feel the twin pangs of a sharp decrease in imports and an increase in already inflated global food prices. (Russia and Ukraine accounted for 30% of the world's wheat exports and nearly 20% of corn.)

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an additional 50 million people have become severely food insecure since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "We're dealing now with a massive food insecurity crisis," said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in December 2022. "It's the product of a lot of things, as we all know, including Russia's aggression against Ukraine."

Food insecurity had been an increasingly grim issue before the war began on Feb. 24, 2022. The United Nations reported that 2.3 billion people were moderately or seriously food insecure in 2021.

While the Ukraine war is not the overriding determinant for food insecurity — many experts cite climate change, a growing population and poverty as the three leading threats — the invasion exposed the fragility of agricultural supply-and-demand conditions. Russia's blockade of Ukraine's food exports in the Black Sea left countries without a critical supply of grain. Ukraine also is a leading producer of corn, potatoes and sunflower seeds.

The invasion dampened the great optimism about the region's capabilities to end world hunger. Ukraine, which has been called the world's breadbasket, had been hailed for its potential to be a food-producing superpower through new land reform measures could result in an extra 10 million hectares for cultivation, according to reports.

It became clear from the start of the invasion that Russia was intent on crippling Ukraine's agriculture sector. While Russia's agriculture production was feeling the effects of sanctions, its military was attacking Ukraine's farms, machinery and storage facilities. Ukraine's Ministry of Agriculture claimed that 30% of the country's farmland was either occupied or unsafe.

There was no shortage of warnings in the early months of the invasion about the impact on food supply chains. Reports surfaced in May 2022 that 20 million tons of grain from Ukraine were being held in silos instead of being exported.

"If those tons don't get to the market, an awful lot of people in Africa are going to starve to death because they are the sole supplier of a number of African countries," U.S. President Joe Biden said at the time.

The price of wheat and grain skyrocketed due to supply issues and only began to recover to pre-war levels in August 2022. Ukraine's corn and wheat exports totaled more than 5.5 million tons in January 2022 and would fall to about 1 million tons within three months, U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show.

The biggest buyers of Russian wheat have traditionally been Egypt and Turkey. The two countries, both facing food scarcity and fragile economies, have a combined population of nearly 200 million. Egypt has struggled through the devaluation of its pound, while Turkey has been crippled by the Syrian refugee crisis and an agriculture industry weakened by a massive earthquake in February.

The halt in exports from the Black Sea has also meant a food shortage for drought-plagued Somalia, which received more than 90% of its grains from Russia and Ukraine. An assessment in February from the U.N. showed the food crisis has become increasingly dire for over 6 million hungry Somalis amid lingering concerns of an impending famine. Neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia also continue to deal with extreme hunger problems.

There have been some recent signs of encouragement in the fight against food scarcity. In March, the Black Sea Grain Initiative was extended, helping to restore Ukraine's corn and wheat exports to seasonal averages and fertilizer prices have eased after hitting record highs in 2022. Despite the hidden effects of Western sanctions, Russian wheat shipments nearly doubled in January and February from the same period in 2022.

But at the start of the second quarter of 2023, Ukraine continues to defend itself from Russian aggression and there are still financial pains from the COVID-19 pandemic and global inflation. These factors have helped cause food prices to remain near all-time highs, contributing to the growing number of people feeling food insecure.