“We see the storm coming”: US fights to contain global food crisis

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that Moscow had caused “an international food crisis that could lead to famine in Africa, Asia and others. [regions] and large-scale political chaos in many countries. “

White House and State Department officials are working with USAID and WFP to address the shortage, and President Joe Biden has pledged $ 1 billion in humanitarian aid “for those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its serious effects worldwide. But after Congress approved $ 4 billion in humanitarian aid for Ukraine and neighboring countries in the omnibus spending package last month, many GOP MPs have little political appetite for further international funding for food aid. And while the government has some resources it can use without Congress to send food grown in the United States to distressed areas, agricultural realities, including last year’s widespread drought, the timing of the planting season and rising costs for inputs such as fertilizers and fuel, limit how much the US crop can help fill the gap created by the crisis in Ukraine.

According to two sources familiar with the plan, the government plans to open up further international food aid in the coming days, including the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust – a $ 260 million federal fund owned by the government to buy US grain and other commodities to send abroad in a crisis. . Police are urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to approve the withdrawal of funds to USAID, which must first formally request it. But parliamentary assistants acknowledge that the available funds are a drop in the bucket compared to the total aid needed.

At the same time, an offensive before the parliament to provide further foreign aid broke up last weekend. A small group of senators was trying to revive efforts to squeeze $ 1 billion into $ 2 billion in global funding for the Covid-19 package, including about $ 200 million in global food aid. But the plan collapsed after Republicans rejected Democrats’ proposed measures to pay for the aid, and several Republicans demanded that the Biden administration reverse measures to lift Trump’s deportation policy for migrants; according to three parliamentary assistants.

Chris Coons (D-Del.), One of the senators pushing for further food aid, lamented the operation as a “serious mistake” and claimed that “the number of famines is a real, imminent threat”. On top of that, Coons, a Republican Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and other House of Representatives who are of a similar mind, warn that such widespread food shortages could trigger mass migration and political instability across North Africa and the Middle East, which in turn could threaten US national security. Coons said it would push for an independent bill with international vaccine and food aid funding.

“We see the storm coming and we feel unprepared to deal with it,” said a senior member of the Senate.

Senses. Bob Menendez (DN.J.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Senior Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, sent a letter on Tuesday and asked Ask the Biden Government to develop policies to address global food insecurity, including “making full use” of the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust and other programs. But they stopped calling for extra funding from parliament.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry’s Economic and Trade Office are monitoring the global food insecurity that accompanies Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Vulnerable groups, especially in the Middle East and Africa, are at greater risk because of Russia’s war,” said Ramin Toloui, who heads the office.

Toloui said US diplomatic officials are in close contact with countries where people are at risk of food insecurity, and US officials are working with allies, multinational organizations and international financial institutions to address food insecurity.

U.S. officials are particularly concerned about countries such as Afghanistan and Yemen, which are already experiencing severe famines, as well as Lebanon, where three-quarters of the population is living in poverty. The latter country, which was already in an economic free fall, received about 80 percent of its grain from Russia and Ukraine before the war. In another shock, Lebanon can only store about a month’s worth of wheat after the 2020 bombing in Beirut that destroyed its main grain silo.

As scarcity increases, the United States is pushing India, Argentina, China, and other countries with significant grain reserves to donate part of their supply to the World Food Program, or at least release it on international markets. Biden, following a meeting with G-7 leaders late last month, warned of a “real” global food shortage. Biden added that the United States and Canada, two major grain exporters, discussed how the two countries could ship more grain abroad to help fill supply shortages.

But as U.S. officials work to reduce the shortage, they are facing other challenges: global wheat stocks, including in the United States, are falling below normal after a record drought last year. Governments with a surplus of grain have been reluctant to release too much of their supply, including Canada.

Increasing demand for wheat, corn and other foodstuffs is also declining at a time when farmers around the world are under enormous financial pressure due to the high cost of fuel, fertilizers, seeds and other agricultural inputs.

In the United States, Cecilia Rouse, chairwoman of Biden’s Economic Advisory Council, told reporters last week that the White House expected US farmers to increase production to benefit from higher commodity prices, which rose after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“When food prices rise, they will respond by planting more and trying to take advantage of higher price tags,” Rouse said. “So the market will work as the market will work.

Rouse added that the US government, including USAID, was working with partners and other international organizations “to get the food and ease the price pressure” for countries in need.

But American farmers, who generally make plans and order supplies in the winter before the spring planting season, are already in the fields in some states. The Department of Agriculture released a report a few days after Rouse’s comments indicating that U.S. farmers planned to plant roughly the same number of acres as the year before, but with less corn – which raised concerns about grain supplies.

GT Thompson Pennsylvania, a senior Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, said it was “completely childish” of the White House to say that farmers would be able to increase production amid high fuel and other production costs.

“We are not talking about just producing what we have always done,” Thompson said. “With the hunger, hunger and death that will take place, we would have to give [U.S. farmers] the tools to increase their productivity. “

Thompson, other Republican lawmakers, and some farmers’ groups say they want Vilsack to allow farmers to plant crops on land that is currently under federal protection plans in an effort to meet international demand. Vilsack recently rejected the request, arguing that the impact of such a measure would be limited as “a significant part” of the country is in areas suffering from drought. The land is also, by design, often located in difficult places to help reduce soil erosion and capture carbon. There have been environmental groups press Vilsack to search for other options.

If the United States does not respond to the food crisis abroad, some lawmakers are worried that China or other competitors could use their grain reserves to gain further political influence over Africa and Asia.

“They are predators. They are blackmailers, “says Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) reported on China, citing Beijing’s previous attempts to use commodities and its own assets as a kind of “predatory lending”.

China is unlikely to be in a position to export a significant amount of grain in the near future, according to economists monitoring the situation. But it is possible that Russia could try to fill a small part of the food shortage that Ukraine leaves behind. US officials are concerned that Russia’s recent threat to export its agricultural products only to “friendly” nations will lead to some vulnerable countries keeping quiet about the Russian invasion.

“This is why we – as a peace-loving, freedom-loving, generous nation – cannot leave our office in these sensitive areas,” Cramer said, adding that he would be inclined to support an independent funding bill. “Leadership will be met by others who will use it for a very noble purpose.

Cramer is currently in the minority of her GOP colleagues, many of whom point out that the United States is already at the forefront of international food aid and that the government still has money it can spend on current aid programs – including Cramer’s home country colleague. , John Hoeven.

Asked whether the United States should increase funding for programs that buy and ship US goods abroad, Hoeven said: “We should use existing programs.

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