The United Nations chief has warned of a global food crisis, but said he is in “intense contacts” with Russia and other key countries and is “hopeful” of an agreement to ease the problem.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped it would allow the export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports and ensure Russian food and fertiliser have unrestricted access to global markets.
But he also told a ministerial meeting on the escalating food security crisis, which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, that “there is still a long way to go”.
“The complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides for a package deal to be reached,” he said of his discussions with Moscow, Ukraine, Turkey, the US, the EU and others. “I will not go into details because public statements could undermine the chances of success.”
Mr Guterres said global hunger levels “are at a new high”, with the number of people facing severe food insecurity doubling in just two years from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million today. He said more than 500,000 people are living in famine conditions – an increase of more than 500% since 2016.
He said Ukraine and Russia together produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil, while Russia and its ally Belarus are the world’s number two and three producers of potash, a key ingredient of fertiliser.
“There is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertiliser produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets, despite the war,” he said.
The secretary-general said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 is “amplifying and accelerating” the drivers of food insecurity and global hunger — climate change, Covid-19 and inequality.
The conflict has closed Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, halting food exports to many developing countries, Mr Guterres said that during his recent visit to Africa’s Sahel region, he met families who did not know where their next meal was coming from.
David Beasley, head of the UN World Food Program, warned that “failure to open the ports will be a declaration of war on global food security, resulting in famine and destabilisation of nations as well as mass migration by necessity”.
“This is not just about Ukraine,” he said. “This is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation as we speak. So I ask (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin, if you have any heart at all, to please open these ports… so that we can feed the poorest of the poor and avert famine, as we’ve done in the past, when nations in this room have stepped up together.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who chaired the meeting called by the United States, said the world is facing “the greatest global food security crisis of our time”.