CDA Hunter Introductory Remarks at John Cabot University 2023 Transatlantic Policy Dialogue:
Food Security After Ukraine: A Transatlantic Perspective
Monday, December 4, 2023
Good evening. Thank you, President Pavoncello and Professor Driessen, for the invitation and opportunity to kick-off this important discussion.
As the title of this dialogue suggests, Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine marked a bleak turning point in the state of global food security. We are about three months shy of the war’s two-year anniversary. An anniversary that leaves in its wake unpredictable and volatile global food markets that are less resilient than before and that imperil food access for the world’s most vulnerable people.
Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine was one of the world’s top producers and exporters of basic foodstuffs such as sunflower oil, barley, maize, and wheat, and a key supplier to countries around the world. The war has devastated Ukraine’s farms, and Russia has purposefully disrupted agricultural trade by bombing and blockading Ukraine’s ports, trapping or destroying millions of tons of grain meant for export. The Black Sea Grain Initiative that facilitated more than 33 million tons of grain and other foods briefly alleviated the disruption and subsequent price hikes was abruptly stopped due to Russia’s unilateral withdrawal.
The recently released Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2023 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report indicates that 23 million more people are projected to face hunger in 2030 as a result of Russia’s choice to invade Ukraine. 23 million people. To put that into perspective, that is 40 percent of Italy’s population.
From the very beginning of this unnecessary war, the United States recognized that the consequences of this invasion would affect every corner of the globe with a particularly devastating impact on the most vulnerable populations. We joined our European allies to ensure military, emergency, and humanitarian aid was provided to the government and people of Ukraine while also keeping our attention on the rest of the world.
The United States has always been at the forefront of the battle to end hunger as the largest donor, by far, to humanitarian and development projects across the globe. Through our U.S. government global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, we work with partner countries to develop their agriculture systems and break the cycle of poverty and hunger.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has provided more than 14 billion dollars in assistance to combat hunger and strengthen food security worldwide, including more than 11.5 billion dollars in immediate humanitarian assistance. Here in Rome, we provide around 50 percent of the World Food Program’s budget and are the largest donor to FAO and IFAD.
New programs under our Feed the Future initiative such as the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils, or “VACS,” launched this year by the United States, together with the African Union and FAO, have further strengthened our commitment to ending hunger. We’ve also invested in FAO soil mapping projects in Guatemala, Honduras, and Zambia and most recently, Ghana and Kenya, to help farmers identify the nutrient deficiencies in their soil, to allow for better use of fertilizer, water and other resources.
But for food security to improve, and world agriculture markets to get back on track, Russia must stop using food as a tool in its war against Ukraine. It must reverse course, withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s soil, so Ukrainians can resume full and unfettered agricultural production, and safely transport their grains and agricultural products to global markets.
We do not yet know the long-term implications of reducing the diversity of international grain sources on global stability. We cannot predict the full scope and harmful effect Russia’s actions will have on resilient and sustainable agricultural supply chains and reliable food sources for people around the world.
What we do know is that Ukraine’s fertile farmlands have the capacity to feed millions around the world, as they were doing before Russia’s war. The United States will continue to work with our partners around the world to safeguard the livelihoods of Ukrainians and ensure the safe transportation of Ukraine’s grains and agricultural products to global markets. And at the same time, the United States will continue to keep our eye on the rest of the world to safeguard the most vulnerable and make sure no one is left behind.
That’s what we can all do together. Our countries, working with likeminded colleagues around the world, can ensure that the UN agencies have what they need to succeed. We can make sure that those who, like Russia, try and harm global food systems are held accountable. Together, we can — once and for all — end global hunger and create a world in which no individual goes to sleep hungry. That’s a world we can all believe in – let’s get to work to make it a reality.