Feb. 27, 2023

LISD Founding Director Wolfgang Danspeckgruber convened a private, off-the-record Liechtenstein Colloquium (vLCM) on food and fertilizer supply chain security and contemporary geopolitics from January 12-15, 2023 in Triesenberg, Liechtenstein. The hybrid colloquium brought together senior representatives from the World Food Programme, academia, non-governmental organizations, as well as private-sector banking and fertilizer technologies; and took place under the auspices of the Princely House of Liechtenstein with financial support by the Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein. This vLCM was an outgrowth of a series of discussions about food and fertilizer security hosted in Princeton in November, 2022.

The January colloquium aimed to address four queries:  

  • What are the specific challenges and interruptions the war against Ukraine has caused in various areas including farming, fishing, and environmental pollution?

  • What are the possible responses to discrete challenges as well as their aggregate effects?

  • How can the international community respond in the short- and medium-term, under an increasingly challenging global actors’ environment, and with accelerating global climate problems, in order to feed the world?

  • What new technologies and methods, policies, or other out-of-the-box ideas might exist to address these challenges?

The participants worked towards finding new and feasible ideas for ensuring the availability and affordability of food and fertilizer inputs, and securing safe food and water supplies for the global community, inside and outside zones of conflict. 

Food and fertilizer security are deeply interconnected issues, and relate directly to geopolitics, especially in an era where nearly everything can be ‘weaponized.’ Indeed, the essential nature of food – and clean water – means that while the basis of value and contribution previously may have been in terms of money, gold, or oil, food and water may emerge as new global currencies that can be exchanged for leverage and pursuit of national goals.

Food security should not only refer to crop yield and fishing tonnage, but also to the nutritional quality of crops, particularly when food exports are sent to countries with nutrient-deficient populations. Since 2019, the number of people facing acute food insecurity increased from 135 to 345 million – and the World Food Programme now supports over 100 million people. Additionally, annual global food waste of up to $1 trillion per year needs to be urgently addressed and mitigated.

In order to ensure sufficient production of food to feed the world, agriculture is reliant on fertilizers – yet key inputs are regionally concentrated and controlled by geopolitical actors. The world needs to diversify so that no single region can hold the global community hostage through its critical role in supplying a particular product or mineral – whether potassium, potash, or nitrates in fertilizer, the energy supply needed to produce fertilizer, or the seeds to sow crops.

In zones of conflict, the safety of current agriculture environments needs to be considered, as well as clean-up and rehabilitation of soils and water supplies in the eventual post-conflict period. Contamination from kinetic warfare includes weapons, ammunition, explosives, vehicles, fuels, and pollutants from damaged industrial sites. Contamination may not only be a by-product of war, but is often a deliberate tactic of war. Monitoring and rehabilitation of soil and water is an issue of essential global and environmental security.