Why regional products are more and more expensive in supermarkets

Fertilizers contain natural gas, which also makes regional food production more expensive right now. Image: dpa central image / Sebastian Willnow


Miriam Meyer

The global food industry has been in turmoil since the start of the war in Ukraine, which now also has an effect on the prices of a wide variety of products in supermarkets. Yesterday cereal products were still at the top of the price increases, the next day it was cucumbers or especially frying oil. The captured foods seem arbitrary, but they all have one thing in common: the level of food prices is rising in Germany and also abroad.

Welthungerhilfe is now ringing the alarm bell: because price increases on the international food market affect all countries in the same way, only they have different effects on the rich or poor population. Above all, the African and Arab states, which had previously received a significant share of Ukrainian and Russian grain deliveries and are still dealing with the economic aftermath of the pandemic and the growing consequences of the climate crisis, are now at risk of starvation, as Welthungerhilfe’s Simone Pott explains to Watson:

“If our bread costs 10 cents more, it’s stupid for us, but not as bad as in countries where the smallest price increases naturally make a huge difference if we have to get by on just under 3 dollars. per day. Then there are the massive increases of pennies.”

Simone JarHelp world hunger

It also concludes that if international food prices rise, rations for people participating in global food programs will also have to be reduced. “As a result, in affected countries, such as Yemen, Kenya or Ethiopia or South Sudan, of course, food insecurity and possibly starvation.”

Expert warns: purchases of hamsters also increase price increases

Does Germany face the same hunger problem? No, replies the Welthungerhilfe expert. Because Germany and the EU are relatively independent in food supply and not dependent on food supply from Ukraine and Russia. “So buying hamsters in Germany makes no sense. Rather the opposite, It is precisely these purchases of hamsters that lead to a short-term shortage on the spot, which will not last.” As Pott explains: “The German Farmers’ Association has made it quite clear that there is currently enough wheat and other staple foods available in Germany. and if not, we could also afford to buy groceries from other countries at higher prices.”

Current degree of autonomy in Germany

The degree of self-sufficiency in Germany is over 100% for products such as meat, potatoes, milk and wheat. The situation is different with fruit, vegetables and eggs, where Germany depends on imports: with a self-sufficiency rate of 20% for fruit, 36% for vegetables and 72% for eggs, there is an undersupply in Germany even outside of crisis periods.

Analysis of the German degree of self-sufficiency in 2022Federal Agricultural Information Center

Nevertheless, the current sharp rise in energy prices poses a challenge to regional agriculture: Because the nitrogen fertilizer, which is applied in many fields across Germany to increase yields, is produced from natural gas. With the explosion in energy prices, the price of fertilizers has also increased. In addition, it takes energy to process raw materials and transport them before the food ends up in the supermarket. All of these energy-dependent processes have now become more expensive, and farmers and logistics companies are trying to compensate for this price increase by increasing the price of their goods. – that eventually reach the consumer.

In this context, the farmers’ association pleads in a press release for an increase in EU crisis reserves with money from the national budget, “which will be used for agricultural accident insurance in order to obtain effective relief for our farms in the region.” The AFD parliamentary group, on the other hand, tabled a motion in the Bundestag this week which requires the release of fallow land and areas of ecological interest for the production of food and animal feed. This was rejected by a majority in the Bundestag in Berlin on Friday.

Call for the transformation of the German food system

Welcoming this decision, Dr. Lukas Fesenfeld, who together with researchers from the University of Göttingen called on the federal government in an open letter for an immediate transformation of the food system in Germany: Because, as they point out in their letter, The short-term release of fallow land is not a sufficient solution: “In order to effectively counter both the immediate consequences of the war in Ukraine and the great challenges of our time – climate change, species extinction, pandemics and peacekeeping – the rapid reduction of meat consumption, food waste and the cultivation of energy plants for the production of bioethanol play a particularly important role.”

“But if you use the fertilizer directly to grow plant-based food, that would be a much more efficient use of land.”

Doctor Luc Fesenfeld
University of Bern Climate Research Center

This would allow more land to be used to grow plant-based foods for human consumption, that can be used directly as feed instead of producing animal feed first. Because ten square meters of arable land bring either grain for about a kilo of pork or at least ten kilos of bread.

Speaking to Watson, the lead author of the open letter, Dr. Lucas Fesenfeld: “What can, above all, reduce our dependence on fertilizers in agriculture in the next two years, would be to systematically reduce the consumption of animal products and also the cultivation of energy plants, because their cultivation and that of animal feed require large quantities of fertilizer. But if you use the fertilizer directly to grow plant-based food, that would be a much more efficient use of land: so we can grow and harvest food directly for the same amount of fertilizer.”

A farmer plows his field in preparation for summer planting.

A farmer plows his field in preparation for summer planting. Image: dpa / Patrick Pleul

In their open letter, the authors propose other concrete measures, including:

  • a lower VAT on vegetable products and a increase in VAT on meat products
  • a promotion Conversion premium for farmers from animal husbandry to plant cultivation

As the researchers point out, above all, every human being as an individual can now take steps to reduce their meat consumption to indirectly improve the global food supply.

Germany has around 11,000 municipalities – of which so far only a minority has a concrete plan, how they can meet the federal government’s CO2-balanced climate protection targets. The will is there, but there is often a lack of money and personnel to implement more climate-friendly measures in the municipalities. To approach this problem in a pragmatic way, the climate protection organization GermanZero has developed the free online tool “LocalZero”, which calculates the path to climate neutrality for your own municipality.

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