Grain now a ‘means of war’, says German official

According to Nilsson, we are in a timeline where grain has become " a tool of war right now". That is why working with all actors, including civil society, on the issue of food security, is so important. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

While grain has become a “means of war” and solidarity with Ukraine is a top priority right now, pressing the pause button on environmental and climate protection would be fatal because “climate crisis will not pause either”, a senior official at the German agriculture ministry told EURACTIV.

Ukraine, one of the world’s major wheat suppliers, is unable to export most of its grain as Russia is blocking the country’s ports on the Black Sea. International organisations have repeatedly warned of food shortages, particularly in countries dependent on imports.

Against this backdrop, global food security has taken on “a geopolitical component”, which is reflected in the fact that the issue now comes up again and again in high-level talks, said Swantje Nilsson, who heads the EU affairs, international cooperation and fisheries department at the German agriculture ministry.

On Wednesday (8 June), European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on the global community to show solidarity on the issue of global food supply and keep trade flows going during a European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed the export of Ukrainian grain with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call and agreed that everything must be done to enable exports via the Black Sea, according to government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit.

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Crisis due to Russia’s war, not sanctions

According to Nilsson, we are in a timeline where grain has become “a tool of war right now”. That is why working with all actors, including civil society, on the issue of food security, is so important, she added.

The question of how the EU can counter Russian propaganda blaming the food shortages on EU sanctions against Moscow has recently proved particularly sensitive, especially in African states.

“The war of aggression on Ukraine, which is against international law, is exacerbating hunger in the world, not Western sanctions. We provide support to alleviate the need,” stressed Nilsson, who pointed out that Germany was the second-largest donor to the World Food Programme and has provided an additional €430 million for world food.

According to the German official, providing humanitarian food assistance should only be the first step, since, in the long term, the right to food must also be secured worldwide.

Regions heavily dependent on imports must be supported in building up their own sustainable and resilient food production for self-sufficiency, she explained.

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No stepping back on climate

Concerning production within Europe, Nilsson also stressed that the shift towards sustainable food systems should not be put on hold under the current conditions.

While solidarity with Ukraine is the “top priority”, we should “not press the pause button on climate protection now, because the climate crisis and species extinction do not pause either,” said the official, who called for different crises not to be played off against each other.

The German agriculture ministry has shown concern over the European Commission’s move to grant member states more flexibility in the protection of fallow land in agriculture, as well as the attempts by some to relax environmental and climate requirements within the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the name of increasing production.

“It is no secret that, for the CAP reform, we envisioned an ambitious new start,” said Nilsson, who became the department’s head shortly after Green Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir took office.

“From that point of view, a rollback in climate and species protection would be really fatal,” she added.

According to Nilsson, this also means that the Commission must now quickly present its proposal revising the EU Pesticides Regulation, which was put on the back burner in March because of the war in Ukraine.

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Feeding fewer animals better

Rather than a reason to scrap sustainability measures, the impact of the Ukraine war on global grain markets is “a wake-up call”, said Nilsson, adding the situation should prompt us to ask: “How does it really make sense for us to shape our food supply?”

Competition for agricultural land between the production of food, fuel and animal feed must be resolved, and food losses along the value chain must be avoided, she added.

“If we feed fewer animals better, more people can be fed.”

Reducing food waste is also one of the goals of the EU’s flagship Farm to Fork strategy.

In the official’s view, such steps reflect the fact that the EU’s agricultural policy is slowly moving towards a more holistic approach that looks not only at production but also at the entire value chain, all the way to the consumer.

“In the transformation of agricultural production, we all share responsibility,” Nilsson concluded.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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