There is a battle for the narrative, Josep Borrell, head of European diplomacy, recalls every day. A battle for the narrative about who is responsible for the food crisis that is already being felt: if Vladimir Putin, for the Russian invasion of Ukraine; or the European Union, due to the boomerang effect of the sanctions applied to the Kremlin. And, in that battle for the narrative, Russia has been losing votes in the United Nations, but this Tuesday the current president of the African Union, the Senegalese Macky Sall, has avoided blaming Russia during his speech by videoconference before the 27 heads of state and the EU Government meeting in Brussels.
“The food crisis caused by the conflict in Ukraine particularly affects our countries due to their heavy dependence on Russian and Ukrainian wheat production,” said the Senegalese president, avoiding pointing to Russia. “The situation is worrying and the worst may be yet to come if the current trend continues. In addition, fertilizers are now three times more expensive than in 2021. According to some estimates, cereal production in Africa will fall between 20% and 50% this year.”
The president of the African Union has also conveyed to the EU leaders “that everything possible be done to release available grain stocks and ensure transport and access to markets to avoid the catastrophic scenario of shortages and a generalized increase in prices”. “There is also the issue of the blockade of the port of Odessa, which prevents the flow of grain stocks. We support the proposed UN mechanism to help unblock the situation.”
The African Union President-in-Office added: “Our countries are very concerned about the collateral effects of the disruption caused by the blocking of Swift’s payment system due to sanctions. When the Swift system breaks, it means that even if the products exist, payment becomes complicated, if not impossible. I would like to insist that this matter be examined as soon as possible by our competent ministers in order to find appropriate solutions”.
Generic EU plan against the food crisis
“Russian military aggression threatens to have dramatic consequences for world food security,” European Council President Charles Michel said in his letter of invitation to EU leaders. “Food prices have skyrocketed and we face serious risks of famine and destabilization in many parts of the world.”
Thus, the 27 discussed “concrete ways to help Ukraine export its agricultural products using EU infrastructures” and “how to better coordinate multilateral initiatives in this regard.”
In relation to the food supply, Von der Leyen spoke of the tons of wheat blocked in Ukraine and the safe routes that they want to open for its distribution.
“There are 22 million tons of grain blocked, especially in Odessa”, acknowledged the President of the European Council, Charles Michel: “We support the efforts of the UN to find a way to get it out, and the search for alternative routes, but it is difficult and expensive for logistical reasons”.
Thus, the European Council has approved generic conclusions in which it asks Russia “to end its attacks on the transport infrastructure in Ukraine, lift the blockade of Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea and allow food exports, in particular from Odessa.
According to the 27, the EU “is taking active measures to facilitate Ukraine’s agricultural exports and support Ukraine’s agricultural sector for the 2022 season. In this regard, the European Council invites Member States to speed up work on the ‘lanes solidarity’ proposed by the Commission and to facilitate food exports from Ukraine through different land routes and EU ports”.
The European Council “calls for effective international coordination to ensure a global response to food security”. In this sense, “it welcomes the Food and Agriculture Resilience Initiative (FARM) that aims to mitigate the consequences on price levels, production and access to and supply of grains. It also supports the UN Global Crisis Response Group, the upcoming G7 initiative establishing a Global Alliance for Food Security (GAFS), and other EU and multilateral actions and initiatives.”
In addition, the European Council “invites the Commission to explore the possibility of mobilizing reserves from the European Development Fund to support the most affected partner countries. In view of the current shortage of fertilizers on the world market, the European Council calls for more concerted efforts to work with international partners to promote more efficient use of fertilizers and alternatives to them.”