US officials are warning African countries against buying looted grain from Ukraine as some countries move closer to Russia to slow soaring food prices and stave off hunger.
The United States issued a warning in mid-May to 14 countries, mostly in Africa, that Russian cargo ships were selling “stolen Ukrainian grain”. The New York Times reported Monday. The report comes as aid agencies warn of dire consequences for food supply lines disrupted by conflict in Ukraine and days after African leaders met Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss grain export required.
Putin on Friday met Macky Sall, President of Senegal and Chair of the African Union, as well as the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, at the residence of the Russian leader in the seaside resort of Sochi, on the black Sea.
After the meeting, Mahamat said on Twitter that the leaders had called for the suspension of Western sanctions imposed on Russia to allow the export of grain he said was needed to ease a growing food and energy crisis.
“Russia is ready to ensure the export of its wheat and fertilizers,” Sall said in a Tweet, adding that he was also open to meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Together, Ukraine and Russia produce almost 30% of the world’s wheat and barley, as well as a fifth of the world’s corn and more than half of its sunflower oil, according to the United Nations.
Zelensky warned of a severe food shortage due to the Russian occupation at last month’s World Economic Forum.
The United Nations World Food Program announced in an April report that the number of people suffering from acute hunger would increase from 33 million to 47 million people due to the conflict in Ukraine. The report expects countries in sub-Saharan Africa to be most affected by the disruptions.
Africa depends on Russia and Ukraine for more than 40% of its wheat imports. Tanzania, Rwanda and Senegal import 60 percent of their wheat from the two countries, with Somalia and Benin depending entirely on them for wheat.
Last week, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network issued a warning that Somalia was facing a risk of famine due to drought, rising staple food prices and conflict. .
“Many countries in Africa were already in a food crisis,” said Lena Simet, senior poverty and inequality researcher at Human Rights Watch, in an earlier interview with Newsweek. “Rising prices are worsening the plight of millions of people pushed into poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring urgent action from governments and the international community.”
However, Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain and trying to sell it abroad.
“I call on all states to remain vigilant and refuse such proposals,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet last month. “Don’t buy what’s been stolen. Don’t become accomplices in Russian crimes. Theft has never brought anyone good luck.”
Newsweek contacted the State Department and the African Union for comment.