WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday urged world financial leaders to “get real” as they seek ways to tackle a looming global food insecurity crisis that the war of Russia in Ukraine has further aggravated.
“This threat is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest – families who already spend a disproportionate amount of their income on food,” Yellen told other finance officials at a food security meeting with members of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “Additionally, the interconnectedness of the global food system means that people on all continents are affected.”
Among the proposed solutions under discussion: reduce export restrictions, ease price controls in countries and subsidize small farmers on a global scale. Failure to feed the world’s population risks not only starvation, but also social unrest and cross-border political upheaval.
READ MORE: States cut food stamp benefits as prices soar
Russia and Ukraine produce a third of the world’s wheat supply and the loss of raw materials due to war has led to soaring food prices and uncertainty about the future of food security around the world , especially in poor countries.
The costs of fertilizers and natural gas have soared and leaders have expressed concern that countries may turn inward and restrict trade to protect their populations, indirectly affecting the most vulnerable countries facing problems. even more serious food.
“We know we need to avoid export restrictions that could further increase prices,” Yellen said. “We need to quickly support the most vulnerable populations with social safety nets and targeted support to small farmers so they can keep producing.”
World Bank President David Malpass said his organization would provide $17 billion a year to boost food security. “We believe food insecurity is growing fastest in middle-income countries and it is essential to respond appropriately,” he said. The organization is also developing a 15-month, $170 billion crisis response program, which will address the pandemic, refugee resettlement and other issues alongside food supplies.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ food price index has made its biggest jump since its inception in 1990, reflecting record highs in the cost of vegetable oils, grains and meat, depending on the organization.
A late March report by the organization said the global number of undernourished people could rise from 8 million to 13 million people by 2023, “with the steepest increases taking place in Asia-Pacific, followed by sub-Saharan Africa and the Near East”. East and North Africa. If the war lasts, the impacts will go well beyond 2022/23. »
Gilbert Houngbo, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said international banks should not only be concerned with food production, but also “providing food on the table, it’s about ensuring minimum social protection to the most vulnerable communities”.
“These small producers should have their fair share in what they produce,” he said.
Yellen said international financial institutions must work with affected countries to develop solutions.
“They can help ease the global shortage of fertilizers and mitigate supply chain disruptions for food and essential supplies,” she said, adding that they can also offer “targeted assistance and strengthen social safety nets to protect vulnerable people in the short term and build their resilience”. longer term. »
READ MORE: West Africa faces worst food crisis in a decade, aid groups say
Anna Nagurney, a crisis management specialist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said Tuesday’s meeting of world leaders was significant and “reflects the growing fear and growing understanding that the world could be on the brink of ‘a catastrophe of hunger’.
Nagurney predicted that countries that have not yet given clear support to Ukraine – such as China and India – will find that food insecurity resulting from a protracted war in Ukraine will affect their own national stability. and the well-being of their citizens.
“It can help further isolate Russia both morally and economically,” she said.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said on Monday that the international coalition of countries imposing sanctions on Russia and its allies takes the threat to food security seriously.
“One of the things we need to do is take practical steps to demonstrate that this system is helping the people who need it most,” he said, which includes a “focus on countries that are struggling to afford things like bread for their people in light of rising commodity prices.