With Ukraine farmers on frontlines, UN food chief warns of ‘devastation’

A local farmer stands in a ruined yard, in a village in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 28, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATES (AFP, REUTERS) - The UN food chief warned on Tuesday (March 29) that the war in Ukraine was threatening to devastate the World Food Programme’s efforts to feed some 125 million people globally because Ukraine had gone “from the breadbasket of the world to breadlines”.

“It’s not just decimating dynamically Ukraine and the region, but it will have global context impact beyond anything we’ve seen since World War Two,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley told the 15-member United Nations Security Council.

Beasley said 50 per cent of the grain bought by the WFP, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations, comes from Ukraine, “so you can only assume the devastation that this is going to have on our operations alone”.

“The farmers are on the frontlines,” he said.

Beasley added that the crisis was compounded by a lack of fertiliser products coming from Belarus and Russia.

“If you don’t put fertiliser on the crops, your yield will be at least 50 per cent diminished. So we’re looking at what could be a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe in the months ahead,” he told the council.

Before Russia’s Feb 24 invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, Beasley said the WFP was already struggling with high fuel and food prices and shipping costs that was forcing it to cut rations for millions of people in places like Yemen.

Beasley warned if the conflict in Ukraine was not ended, “the world will pay a mighty price and the last thing we want to be doing as the World Food Programme is taking food from hungry children to give to starving children”.

At the same meeting, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Russia caused the food crisis by starting the war in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "started this war. Vladimir Putin created this global food crisis. And he is the one who can stop it", Sherman said during the meeting devoted to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

"The responsibility for waging war on Ukraine - and for the war's effects on global food security - falls solely on Russia and on President Putin," she said.

France's ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Riviere, furthered that "Russia's aggression against Ukraine is increasing the risk of famine around the world" and that populations in developing countries would be the first to be affected.

"Russia will no doubt try to make us believe that it is the sanctions adopted against it that are creating an imbalance in the world security situation for food," de Riviere added.

Moscow's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia indeed countered that potential turbulence in the global food market was in fact caused by "the unbridled sanctions hysteria that the West has unleashed against Russia".

David Beasley of the World Food Program addresses the UN Security Council on the impending food crisis around the world. PHOTO: AFP

Sherman and the WFP's Beasley reported that Ukraine and Russia, which are both major cereal producers, represent 30 per cent of world wheat exports, 20 per cent for corn and 75 per cent for sunflower oil.

Last Friday the European Union announced an initiative to alleviate food shortages caused by the war. The EU and United States want a multilateral commitment against restrictions on the export of agricultural raw materials.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya said the conflict in Ukraine "threatens to make things even worse in the world's biggest humanitarian crises, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, and in the Horn of Africa" where food insecurity is already a problem.

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