Blinken rallies countries to address world food crisis

Two women with a bag of flour in a grocery store (© Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP Images)
A woman buys wheat flour from a shopkeeper in May in Mogadishu, Somalia, a country heavily dependent on wheat from Ukraine and Russia. Families across Africa are paying about 45% more for wheat flour as Russia's war in Ukraine blocks exports from the Black Sea. (© Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged nations June 24 to step up efforts to protect world food security, which he said is threatened by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“More countries need to step up with new, substantial contributions to meet urgent humanitarian needs,” Blinken said during the Uniting for Global Food Security conference in Berlin.

An estimated 193 million people were counted as living in acute food insecurity conditions in 2021, according to the United Nations. By the end of 2022, another 40 million people globally could be pushed into severe food insecurity and poverty following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the World Bank.

Kremlin `weaponizing food’

Russia is exacerbating the crisis by blocking Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea. An estimated 25 million tons of grain is being held up in Ukraine’s silos and will spoil if it is not exported soon, the secretary said.

Russia also is destroying Ukraine’s farms, stealing its supplies and blocking its exports to other nations.

Blinken outlined several steps that he said nations should take:

  • Provide greater support for humanitarian organizations.
  • Support U.N. efforts to end Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
  • Produce more fertilizer.
  • End restrictions on food and fertilizer exports.
  • Increase the food supply worldwide.

The secretary said that when the United States imposed sanctions on Russia following its February 24 invasion, the United States deliberately created exceptions for agricultural goods and fertilizer as well as for the insurance and shipping necessary to move these products “precisely to avoid worsening the food crisis.”

“Only one country is blocking food and fertilizer from leaving Ukraine, and that is Russia.”

~ U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

U.S. doing its part

In May, Blinken convened a U.N. Security Council meeting and a ministerial meeting to help galvanize further collective action on the food crisis. During that meeting, countries agreed to create a “global road map” that commits countries to taking concrete steps to get food to people around the world who need it. Ninety-four countries have signed on to that road map.

Since the February invasion, the U.S. government has:

  • Approved $5.5 billion in new funding to bolster food security and humanitarian assistance worldwide.
  • Pledged $2.8 billion in emergency food assistance to nations in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America that were hit hardest by the world food crisis.
  • Committed $500 million to increase domestic fertilizer production and is seeking to raise $100 million for new research on increasing efficiency and developing alternatives.

On June 28 President Biden announced the U.S. will commit an additional $2 billion in emergency food assistance in the coming three months and an additional $760 million to promote agricultural development and mitigate hunger and malnutrition in countries vulnerable to the crisis.

The secretary noted that the ongoing food crisis is leading families into difficult decisions such as taking long trips along dangerous routes in search of food.

“We see the suffering and we know we can do something about it,” Blinken said. “So let’s get it done.”