Food security crisis could kill more people than Covid: Amadou Hott

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati delivers a speech during the opening of the Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on July 15, 2022 .

Done Nagi | AFP | Getty Images

Senegalese Economy Minister Amadou Hott has urged the global food industry not to boycott trade in Russian and Ukrainian food products as the food crisis rages in vulnerable countries.

Hott told the Group of 20 financial leaders’ meeting in Bali last week that without an immediate resolution, the crisis – which involves both food shortages and high prices – would kill more people “than in the past. times of Covid”.

The war saw many countries like the United States and those in the European Union sanctioning the use or trade of Russian goods. But while commodities like food and fertilizer are exempt from these sanctions, those in the food business preemptively avoid these transactions to protect themselves, Hott added.

“We understand that foodstuffs and fertilizers are exempt from sanctions. However, market participants, whether traders, banks or insurers, are reluctant to participate if the products come from certain places because ‘They are afraid of being punished in the future,’ he said.

“Is it possible to say, whenever you buy fertilizers, food from Russia or Ukraine or anywhere in the world, there will be no sanctions today, no sanctions tomorrow…so we can stabilize the market?”

“We are not responsible for this crisis but we [Africa] suffer.”

Food security and rising food prices dominated discussions at the G-20 meeting last week, as disruptions caused by the pandemic and war in Ukraine upended food supply chains across the world.

Inflation and food shortages were already on the rise before the war. But since Russia and Ukraine are two of the biggest exporters of food staples like wheat, the war has compounded these problems in places like Africa and the Middle East.

The problem is acute for African countries, which account for a third of the world’s malnourished people, Hott added.

Africa, for example, has a deficit of about 2 million tons of fertilizer this year, which translates into an $11 billion loss in food production this year, he said.

If Africa and other places can no longer rely on food imports, investments are needed to accelerate local food production.

“As in the days of Covid, the world came together and made extraordinary decisions in the shortest possible time,” he said.

“All partners have changed procedures and policies to really meet the challenge. Like the IMF, World Bank, AfDB, everyone has changed their policies to help countries.”

“This time it’s the same. If we don’t move fast, we will have more casualties than in the days of Covid,” he added.

Amid intense competition for food and key inputs like fertiliser, there is a risk that supplies will be diverted from poorer to richer countries, repeating the experience of Covid-19 vaccines.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Director General of the World Trade Organization

Worse, it will cost governments more money to buy food and support people with aid at a time of rising interest rates, Hott said.

Disastrous image for poor countries

The struggle to tighten food supplies also means poorer countries will be missing out, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in the same discussion at the G meeting. -20.

“In a context of intense competition for food and key inputs like fertilizers, there is a risk that supplies will be diverted from poorer to richer countries, repeating the experience of Covid-19 vaccines,” he said. she said, while urging countries to work together rather than against each other to solve the food crisis.

The G-20 must lead by example and call on other countries to avoid counterproductive actions, such as stockpiling essential food and supplies, and imposing export restrictions that could “distort markets.” and further drive up prices,” said US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. same debate.

The statistics paint a dire picture, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said, also during the same discussion.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said the FAO Food Price Index had reached an all-time high and recommended a four-point plan that includes more investment in the worst-hit countries.

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said G-20 countries needed to dig deep and find better solutions.

“We must use all our capacities against trade restrictions, raise our collective voice that it is not only immoral but harmful if food does not arrive where it should,” she said in the same session. .

“We want to see the international food supply increase, including negotiations to get grain from Ukraine to where it is needed, and we need to support the production, storage and distribution of food.”

During the G-20 meeting, Georgieva, Qu from the FAO, Okonjo-Iweala from the WTO, along with World Bank Group President David Malpass and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley , released a joint statement calling for urgent global action on the food crisis.

“By June 2022, the number of acutely food insecure people whose short-term access to food has been limited to the point that their lives and livelihoods are at risk,” their statement read.

Not just war and Covid

But Georgieva also warned the global community against blaming the food crisis solely on current challenges, such as war or the pandemic.

Climate change has also contributed to the problem over time.

“The current crisis was already there before the war. Why ? Because of climatic shocks that have drastically reduced food production in many places,” she said.

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