Policies leading to a war on fossil fuel as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine will contribute to a food crisis, according to Robert Unanue, President and CEO of Goya Foods. “We are on the precipice of food shortage.”
However, the fourfold surge in fertilizer prices will affect African and European countries more severely than the United States because the latter is currently more independent with regard to food, Unanue said, with the big problem being that it’s planting season in southeastern Ukraine and people are fighting a war.
“There’s two and a half million acres of sunflowers to be planted,” he said. Farmers there will be planting less and yielding less, because of the rising costs and the lack of good yield. “It’s going to send food prices spiraling.”
Both Ukraine and Russia are major producers of the world’s wheat and corn. Together, they account for about 29 percent of global wheat exports, 19 percent of global corn supply, and 80 percent of global sunflower oil exports.
Moreover, the irrigation systems in southeastern Ukraine have been bombed and ports have been cut off, Unanue noted. Mariupol, a port on the Azov Sea, has already been cut off, and Odesa, a Black Sea port, is the next target, he added. “That will landlock Ukraine and prevent them from exporting.”
The biggest component of food cost is transportation, so the current war on fossil fuels has made the United States no longer oil independent.
“Shipping in a pipeline is free,” he said. “But when you put it on a ship, with rates 10 times where they were two years ago, we are buying oil at retail.”
The CEO gave an example of coconut water, which his company imports from Thailand in bulk, to illustrate the impact of the surge in transportation costs.
A case of coconut water used to cost $1.44, but now the cost per case has increased to $15 due to rising transportation expenditure, he said. “That’s an inflation, a tenfold inflation.”
Goya’s Humanitarian Mission
Goya has embarked on a mission to provide humanitarian and spiritual aid to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. The company partnered with organizations and individuals such as the Knights of Columbus of Poland, Global Empowerment Mission (GEM), and ex-U.S. green berets who will distribute food donated by Goya from its European facility as well as rosaries donated by Americans, Unanue said.
He said the ex-green berets are very courageous men, having gone into 40 cities in Ukraine with food and medicine.
“We’re there with nourishing the body, but we also want to nourish the soul,” he said of the company’s creed.
“God created humanity. But humanity has created the way to destroy itself—nuclear, chemical, biological,” Unanue said. “Now we’re using food as a weapon. We have to move closer to God.”
“We need to love and build, not hate and destroy. And that’s our mission.”
Fires at Food Processing Facilities
With a food crisis looming, recent fires and other accidents that occurred at a multitude of food processing facilities within the last few months, raising concerns over yet another burden on an already vulnerable food industry.
Unanue said that such incidents often occur due to deferring preventive maintenance of these facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. When lockdowns were imposed on most companies and businesses, the food industry kept working.
Since then, Goya has doubled its capacity and its facilities operate around the clock, but “any factory needs to stop for maintenance at least once a year,” he said, adding that Goya’s plants stop twice a year for maintenance.