This article is part of our special report Food security in times of crisis.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called for a show of global solidarity to cope with the food insecurity caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, urging states to keep trade open while pledging EU support for the most vulnerable countries.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the global supply chain has been plagued by uncertainty, in particular in relation to wheat, cereals, and edible oils.
As such, the conflict, together with a deadly combination of the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing impact of climate change, is predicted to push some 275 million people into high risk of food insecurity across the world.
“And in an inflationary world, that risk and those numbers can quickly spiral further out of control,” von der Leyen warned during an address to the European plenary on Wednesday (8 June), adding that we should be under “no illusions about the challenge ahead”.
According to the Commission President, world partners expect the EU and other major economies step up to show the “same resolve and solidarity as we have shown towards Ukraine, when it comes to addressing the food security crisis”.
“And this is exactly what we will do through our own response and through our work within the G7 and with other partners,” she promised.
To do so, von der Leyen set out a four-point plan of action, the first of which includes keeping markets open with no export restrictions or controls so that trade can continue to flow.
“The European Union keeps its food exports going, and so should everyone else,” she said.
This also involves stepping up work on the so-called ‘solidarity lanes’: the establishment alternative logistics routes using all relevant transport modes to ensure that grain blocked in Ukraine gets on the market as quickly as possible.
However, the President conceded this will have limited impact without access to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
“We need [these ports] up and running again because the majority of Ukrainian grain can only be exported in time through the Black Sea route,” she emphasised.
Solidarity and support
The Commission President also reiterated the importance of solidarity and support to the most vulnerable countries.
“Unity and support are the strongest messages we can send in the face of Russian aggression and Russian disinformation,” she said, outlining the EU’s plans to provide an additional €225 million to southern neighbourhood partners.
A recent outlook report produced by the world’s major global food organisations found that acute food insecurity will likely deteriorate further in 20 countries – so-called ‘hunger hotspots’ – over the coming months.
The President also pushed on the need to invest in making local production more sustainable and resilient. This includes an initiative to boost Africa’s own production capacity, which she said will be “critical to strengthen the region’s resilience”.
Meanwhile, the EU budget has already earmarked €3 billion to invest in agriculture and nutrition, water and sanitation programmes, and is currently considering the possibility of mobilising an additional €600 million from the European Development Fund.
EU sanctions ‘do not impact food’
Meanwhile, von der Leyen also took the opportunity to stress that this is the result of Russia’s action alone, adding that food has become “part of the Kremlin’s arsenal of terror”.
“Let’s be very clear: Whereas Russia actively weaponises hunger, the EU’s sanctions are carefully crafted to avoid a negative impact,” she said, emphasising that EU sanctions “do not affect the trading of grain, or other food, between Russia and third countries”.
Her comments come on the back of a Russian-backed narrative that it is Western sanctions which are responsible for the disruption to global supply of grains and fertilisers.
This narrative is already gaining ground in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
As part of efforts to challenge this, EU leaders recently met with African Union Chair and President of Senegal, Macky Sall, to agree on a common stance which places the blame for disruptions to food supply squarely on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s shoulders.
However, Sall since met with Putin, after which he appealed for the suspension of sanctions against cereals and other key commodities.
“So let’s stick to the truth: This food crisis is fuelled by Putin’s war of aggression,” von der Leyen stressed, adding it is “our duty to dismantle Russian disinformation”.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]