is France “food independent” enough to avoid shortages, as the government assures?

Just over a month after the start of the war in Ukraine,the world “enters an unprecedented food crisis”, warned, Thursday 24 March, Emmanuel Macron, on the sidelines of the G7 and NATO summit. Indeed, many countries depend on Ukraine and Russia, which are considered the “granaries of Europe”, for their supply of agri-food products, especially wheat. However, the conflict hinders exports, because productions in the ports are blocked.

However, the French government wants “very reassuring” “There is no risk of shortages in France”said the Minister of Agriculture and Food, Julien Denormandie, on RMCMarch 24. “We are independent in terms of food, we produce our own food”added the government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, on March 28 on LCPwelcome this “luck”of this “luxury”† But is it so sure?

France is by far the largest agricultural producer in the European Union, notes a parliamentary information report published Dec. It alone still represents about 18% of European agricultural production. The French agricultural trade balance has also been in surplus for almost half a century, the deputies note. In other words, France exports more agricultural products than it imports. The last time there was a shortage was in 1976, a year marked by a severe drought that forced the country to import more than usual.

Excluding exports, theFrench production of wheat or maize was thus sufficient to cover French consumption by an average of more than 150% between 2015 and 2019, according to FranceAgriSea, quoted in the parliamentary report. The production of milk, yogurt and cheese also covered the national consumption by more than 100%. For beef, pork, poultry and eggs, the ratio fluctuated between 94% and 100%. And it stood at 90% and 84% for fresh fruits and vegetables. France was very clearly an importer of only five types of products during this period – sometimes for obvious reasons: rice (10%), exotic fruits and citrus fruits (17%), fish (32%), soya (40%) and mutton (49%).

Nevertheless, “we can’t say we are completely independent from a food standpoint”, notes Christophe Gouel, an economist at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae). Indeed, France imports about 20% of its food consumption, a dependency that has doubled in 20 years and even exceeds 50% in certain sectors, note the delegates, referring to France Strategy“Situation has been deteriorating for years”, the parliamentarians point out, who cite a few examples. More than half of the fruits and vegetables consumed in France are imported, compared to about a third twenty years ago. Between a third and 40% of French poultry consumption is dependent on imports, compared to 13% in 2000. A quarter of pork consumption is also imported. And more than half of the mutton consumed in France is.

But two-thirds of these French imports come from European Union member states (excluding the United Kingdom), according to FranceAgriMer’s study. Spain, Belgium and Germany are France’s three main suppliers, followed by the Netherlands and Italy. “We are very dependent on countries such as Spain or the Netherlands for fruit and vegetables”illustrates the economist Christophe Gouel. The main non-European suppliers of France are Brazil and Morocco, in 9th and 10th place in this ranking.

“We are very little dependent on Ukraine and Russia.”

Christophe Gouel, economist at Inrae

at franceinfo

The Russia and Ukraine alone definitely represent 15% of wheat production and 30% of world export of this grain, the researcher recalls Sebastien Abis with France 24† But France “remains the leading grain power in the European Union”, adds Thierry Pouch, head of the studies and forecasting department of the Permanent Assembly of the Chambers of Agriculture. She produces about 70 million tons of grains annually, of which between 35 and 40 million tons of wheat, according to the parliamentary report. “Our wheat production is a third for our consumption, a third for animal feed and a third for export”summarizes the economist Bruno Parmentier, former director of the Angers Higher Agricultural School.

France should therefore not experience any problems with the supply of wheat-based products. There is no reason that we are missing bread, flour or pasta in France”, reassures Bruno Parmentier. On the other hand, the rise in wheat prices will affect us on the price level”, adds Christophe Gouel. Because even though France is not dependent on Russian and Ukrainian wheat, Grain prices are linked to the situation on the world market. Added to this is that: “we are in a context of high inflation, so prices will rise in the coming weeks”, acknowledged the Minister of Agriculture.

“Consumers are already starting to feel the price increase on their shopping cart in the supermarket, especially on bread, flour or biscuits.”

Thierry Pouch, economist

at franceinfo

The price of the baguette “maybe five to ten cents up”, under the influence of the rise in the price of wheat, but also of energy, predicts Bruno Parmentier. However, the effect of these increases should be relatively limited. “The consequences of the war in Ukraine are particularly felt on energy and fuel prices, which weigh more heavily” on the household budget than on agricultural prices”explains the economist Christophe Gouel.

The price of sunflower oil, of which Ukraine is the largest exporter in the world, could also rise. Nevertheless, “it’s not a very expensive oil, so it won’t matter much” consumer wallettempers Christophe Gouel.

On the other hand, the consequences promise to be more severe for French agriculture, “highly dependent on access to fertilizersscore Bruno Parmentier. Most of these products come from Russia, largest exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “This year we had fertilizer stocks. But the year 2023 threatens to get more complicated if the conflict stalls,” is concerned Thierry Pouch.

France is also heavily dependent on vegetable proteins, such as soy and sunflower, which form the basis of animal feed. About 40% of these proteins are imported, which: “represents one of the most troubling points regarding the challenges of food autonomy”, takes note of the parliamentary report. For example, more than half of the sunflower cake, which is mainly used to feed ruminants, comes from Ukraine, estimates Thierry Pouch.

The lack of offer of Ukrainian meal “will increase the cost of fodder and penalize French breeding”, analyzes Christophe Gouel. To help farmers, the government promised an envelope of 400 million euros as part of its resilience plan.

In general, the experts interviewed by franceinfo want to reassure you about the consequences for France. Conversely, some countries in Africa and the Middle East have been exposed “with a real risk of famine or political instability”, points to Thierry Pouch. Egypt, Libya or Lebanon for example “for the supply of wheat between 50% and 100% depending on Russia and Ukraine”the specialist remembers.