Study Buddy: Can the world spend its way out of the global food crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

  • UN said Russia’s war on Ukraine could lead to ‘hurricane of hunger’ as 30 per cent of the world’s grain exports come from the warring countries
  • Use the provided pre-reading activity, comprehension questions, vocabulary practice and writing prompt to test your understanding of the article
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent prices skyrocketing and caused shortages of food staples around the world. Photo: Reuters

1. Pre-reading questions

1. When Hong Kong was facing its fifth wave of Covid-19 cases, how did your family respond to the panic buying that left many supermarket shelves empty?

2. Is there anything Hong Kong people can do to reduce our dependence on imported food?

3. Does your family keep a stock of food to tide you over in case there is an interruption of food delivered to Hong Kong?

2. Comprehension

Read the following text and answer questions 1-15.

Adapted from “Can the world spend its way out of the current global food crisis?” by Amy Chew, South China Morning Post, 4 June 2022.

Thirty per cent of the world’s grain exports come from Ukraine and Russia. Photo: AP

Questions (41 marks)

1. Complete the following notes based on paragraph 1 by writing ONE word that best fits each blank below. Your answers must be grammatically correct. (3 marks)

Three reasons are mentioned for the global food crisis:

(i) Russia ____________________ Ukraine.
(ii) Protectionism is on the ____________________.
(iii) Governments are ____________________ exports of staples.

2. What does the first “it” in line 7 refer to?

3. Which countries are “the warring nations” (line 15)?

4. Using paragraph 4, fill in the blanks below with the staples that are experiencing global shortages because of the war in Ukraine. (5 marks)

(i) About 20 per cent of the world’s ____________________ is from Russia alone.
(ii) About 20 per cent of the world’s ____________________ is from Russia and Ukraine.
(iii) 40 per cent of the world’s ____________________ is from Russia along with Belarus.
(iv) Slightly more than three-quarters of the world’s ____________________ is from Russia and Ukraine.
(v) About 30 per cent of the world’s ____________________ is from Russia and Ukraine.

5. What does “This” refer to in line 22?

6. Decide whether the following statements are True, False, or the information is Not Given in paragraphs 4 and 5. (5 marks)

(i) Western sanctions on Russia are partly responsible for reduced fertiliser exports.
(ii) Moscow has not restricted fertiliser exports.
(iii) Thailand gets most of its fertiliser from Russia and Ukraine.
(iv) After the Covid-19 pandemic, 276 million people are suffering from starvation.
(v) Potassium fertiliser is also called potash fertiliser.

7. Complete the flow chart describing the sequence of events by using ONE word taken from paragraph 5 to fill each blank below. Your answers must be grammatically correct. (4 marks)

8. What is a possible explanation for why the writer does not specify who laid the mines in paragraph 6?

9. Below is a summary of paragraph 7. Fill in the blanks with ONE word that best fits the context. Your answers must be grammatically correct. (5 marks)

The African Union has warned of a (i) ____________________ if exports of Russian and Ukrainian cereals and fertilisers continue to be (ii) ____________________. On Friday, the African Union chairman met the Russian (iii) ____________________ to discuss (iv) ____________________ exports of cereals and fertilisers to Africa and (v) ____________________ the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

10. Find a phrase in paragraph 9 that has a similar meaning to “pittance”.

11. Match the main points (A-E) with one of the corresponding paragraphs on the left. Write the correct letter on the line next to the paragraph number. (5 marks)

12. What does “the region” in line 51 refer to?

13. According to Yeah in paragraph 10, the money from the World Bank ...

A. is too little to make a difference.
B. will help address hunger in these countries but not the regional issues with producing food.
C. will not help alleviate hunger.
D. will make a significant difference.

14. Find a word in paragraphs 10 and 11 that has a similar meaning to each word given below. (4 marks)

(i) “tiny” ____________________
(ii) “ease” ____________________
(iii) “distributed” ____________________
(iv) “buy” ____________________

15. What are the three most urgent steps required to avoid immediate famine according to Beasley in paragraph 13? (3 marks)

(i) _________________________________________________
(ii) _________________________________________________
(iii) ________________________________________________

A shopkeeper sells wheat flour at a market in Mogadishu, Somalia; the United Nations is warning that price hikes are coming as many parts of Africa are facing drought and hunger. Photo: AP

3. Vocabulary practice

  • avert (vb) (line 62) – prevent something bad from happening 
  • catastrophic (adj) (line 31) – causing a lot of suffering or destruction
  • choke point (n) (line 11) – a narrow route providing passage to another region
  • diminish (vb) (line 57) – become or make something smaller or weaker
  • disruption (n) (line 27) – a situation in which something cannot continue in the normal way
  • initiative (n) (line 38) – a new plan to deal with a problem
  • morph (vb) (line 7) – change smoothly into something else
  • perfect storm (n phr) (line 7) – a situation in which several bad things happen at the same time making it the worst possible situation
  • pitch in (phr vb) (line 40) – do something helpful as a part of a group
  • pittance (n) (line 43) – a very small amount of money

Place one word or phrase from the box in each blank, using the correct form of the word.

1. If there is a big job, we all ____________________ to get it done, and then we can be free sooner.
2. In 2017, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, adjacent to Somaliland, on the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a critical ____________________ between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
3. After the divorce, her husband paid her a _________________, barely enough to live on.
4. The quiet resort ____________________ into a haven for refugees who had lost everything.
5. The insects were ____________________ in number, and soon their season would be over.
6. Because the hurricane was travelling so slowly, at about eight miles per hour, the sustained winds were causing, and would continue to cause, ____________________ damage.
7. Without the ____________________ of passing boats, the river is a calm mirror of the sky above.
8. The extreme heat and dryness created a ____________________ for disastrous fires.
9. The film was about the threat of the Earth colliding with another planet and how all the scientists in the world united to ____________________ the tragedy.
10. The Hong Kong government’s ____________________ in revitalising and redeveloping industrial buildings, increasing the land supply and kick-starting the development of East Kowloon will further stimulate the growth of the local economy.

4. Writing

Write about 400 words on the following topic.

Food shortages are getting more and more severe in the world, causing hundreds of millions of people to go hungry. Although Hong Kong may not face immediate famine, it is still an issue of great concern to people living here.

Write a recommendation report with headings suggesting ways the Hong Kong government and people can cope with the world food shortage.

Harvesters transfer wheat into a tractor on a field before it will be turned to rice paddies on Chongming Island, in Shanghai, China. Photo: Bloomberg


1. Pre-reading questions sample answers

1. When Hong Kong was facing its fifth wave of Covid-19 cases, how did your family respond to the panic buying that left many supermarket shelves empty?

My family did not take part in the panic buying, but we did have to rely more on frozen food when we could not find as much fresh produce as we usually would. I was shocked when I went to ParknShop and saw the empty shelves. It was stressful because the Covid-19 situation compounded this issue, and it could have been prevented. I felt bad for the elderly people, low-income families and refugees who had trouble finding food.

2. Is there anything Hong Kong people can do to reduce our dependence on imported food?

Hong Kong has a lot of unused farmland and unoccupied factory buildings. That is space that could be used for food production. Perhaps the government could give companies that hold vacant land for years an incentive to rent it out to produce vegetables and herbs or to raise fish. Unused factory buildings could be converted into hydroponics or aquaponics farms. I know at least one Hong Kong company that has proved this can be successful on a large scale. And people in rural areas could grow vegetables on their patios and rooftops.

3. Does your family keep a stock of food to tide you over in case there is an interruption of food delivered to Hong Kong?

No, we don’t stockpile food. I don’t think we could last more than three days without buying food. My family likes fresh food, so we don’t keep much canned, bottled or dried food in the house. We would be in serious trouble if there was a sudden food shortage in Hong Kong.

2. Comprehension (41 marks)

1. (i) invaded; (ii) rise; (iii) suppressing
2. (the global food) crisis
3. Russia and Ukraine
4. (i) nitrogen fertiliser; (ii) maize; (iii) potassium; (iv) sunflower oil; (v) wheat
5. the surging price of fertiliser / less rice being planted
6. (i) T; (ii) F; (iii) NG; (iv) T; (v) NG
7. (i) surging; (ii) plant; (iii) export; (iv) hunger
8. Both countries may have done it. / Each country may claim the other did it. / There may be a dispute about who did it.
9. (i) catastrophe; (ii) blocked; (iii) president; (iv) unblocking; (v) easing
10. a drop in the bucket
11. (i) E; (ii) D; (iii) A; (iv) C; (v) B
12. emerging and developing Asian economies
13. B
14. (i) minuscule; (ii) alleviate; (iii) disbursed; (iv) procure
15. (i) Reopen the (Ukrainian) port of Odesa; (ii) Increase fertiliser supply; (iii) Avoid export bans

3. Vocabulary

1. pitch in
2. choke point
3. pittance
4. morphed
5. diminishing
6. catastrophic
7. disruptions / disruption
8. perfect storm
9. avert
10. initiatives

4. Writing


The world is currently experiencing a severe food shortage with hundreds of millions of people going hungry already and tens of millions more expected to go hungry this year. High prices for food, fuel and fertiliser are catastrophic for developing countries that import a large portion of their food and even for those that grow their own food but cannot afford the inflated prices of fuel and fertiliser.


Rich families in places like Hong Kong can afford to pay inflated prices for food and fuel, but the food inflation is still devastating for low- and even middle-income families. Hong Kong is guaranteed sufficient food by the mainland because of its vast resources. But China imports most of its fuel and much of its feed for animals, so the global shortage may even affect China. However, we are still better off than almost all developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Therefore, Hong Kong has a responsibility to help poorer countries get through this difficult period. There is nothing we can do to help end the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but perhaps there are other things we can do.


First, we all have a responsibility to reduce food waste as much as possible in our personal lives so that all Hongkongers have access to food.

Second, perhaps Hong Kong’s hydroponics know-how could be combined with the mainland’s hydroponics manufacturing capability to help nearby developing countries to get started with large- and small-scale hydroponics farms. The hydroponics method uses 95 per cent less water and produces five times more vegetables in the same space as soil farming. And it doesn’t require imported fertilisers or insecticides. China is the global centre for the manufacturing of greenhouses, hydroponics equipment and hydroponic fertiliser. Farmers can be shown how to set up a hydroponics farm in days, and then all that is needed is the financing for the equipment. Perhaps this is where Hong Kong could help out, perhaps as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Third, perhaps Hong Kong could provide loans or aid through China’s Belt and Road Initiative to help developing countries with whom we have a close relationship pay for fuel and fertiliser to ensure high crop yields.


As one of the richest places in the world, Hong Kong has a responsibility to help some of the poorest countries get through these troubled times.

Sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club

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