File photo of wheat File photo of wheat 

Russia-Ukraine grain deal 'good news' but blockade 'could happen again'

Graham Gordon, the Head of Public Policy with CAFOD, applauds a grain deal between Russia and Ukraine, but warns "if there is another blockade or something happens, it's all going to happen again," and calls for deeper reform of the food system.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

While grateful for a deal between Ukraine and Russia to resume exports of grain through the Black Sea, Graham Gordon, head of Public Policy at CAFOD, is calling for reforming food systems, warning that the blockage could happen all over again.

The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) is the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and part of Caritas Internationalis.

In an interview with Vatican News' Lydia O'Kane, he explored what the deal actually means for countries, which at this point really need the grain.

Grain deal, good news

"The deal [on Friday] is good news because it's unlocking 20 million tons of grain that are currently stuck in Ukraine, and countries like South Sudan or Ethiopia or Kenya, which are suffering from a food crisis at the moment - if they can get this grain, it can really help alleviate some of the immediate suffering and malnutrition that we're seeing in those countries."

According to COFAD's website, millions of families around the world are facing a food crisis that many feel has been unprecedented. Forces further fueling the conflict include increases in catastrophes provoked by climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as rising food and fuel costs caused by the conflict in Ukraine.

Even before the pandemic struck, in 2019, close to 750 million people were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity. Now, exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, as many as 811 million people around the world are facing extreme hunger - an increase of roughly 60 million people in just three years. Children suffer the most.

"We've all been affected globally with increase in food prices, which is partly due to the conflict in Ukraine, but some of the countries, like some in East Africa that I mentioned or in Afghanistan, or other places, are really suffering from acute hunger," said Mr. Gordon

He encouraged the World Food Programme's appeal for increased funding from Western governments, and others who are able to buy grain and send it to these countries, which are in many cases over 50% dependent on grain imports for their staple crops.

Need immediate response and long term view

"The immediate response must be to get food to countries where it's most needed," he said, adding "but also longer term."

“This is an opportunity to actually think about how our global food system is working and how we need to shorten supply chains and reduce dependency on a few staple crops for feeding much of the global population.”

He was asked what the international community and governments need to do to make sure everything goes smoothly.

"Now, obviously, they carry on with the diplomacy, and then they have to be carrying on funding organizations like the World Food Programme to get aid so they can buy the food. But also," he added, "there are other things that global governments can do."

He observed that in this current crisis, speculation on grain markets, whether it's you to reduce supply of grain or other reasons, has actually shot up global food prices.

Need to reform food systems

"So G20 governments, G7 governments can be the ones that can curb speculation in times of crisis," he said.

“We need to tackle climate change and make sure that we keep global warming down. We also need to diversify food systems for countries like Kenya or Zambia or others which rely on imports of wheat and maize and have a few staple products.”

If those products fail due to low rainfall or droughts, or if they can't get those products imported as they used to, he said, "then the food system fails."

"We need organizations like the World Bank or like G7 countries or like their own countries themselves, [such as] the Kenyan government to invest in more vegetables, in diverse grains which are locally suited in different livestock and in different diverse, nutritious food systems that will resist some of these fluctuations in prices, that will resist failed rains and that will resist some of the impacts of food system over the long supply chains being affected like we see with the current conflicts."

Risk this happens again

Despite the achievement, he confirmed much more needs to be done.

"Releasing 20 million tons of grain that can be used to feed people who need it and use it to alleviate some of the increasing global food prices, is good news, he said, "but it's only going to it's a very short term solution, but absolutely needed."

“And if there's another blockade, if something happens, it's all going to happen again.”

"That's why we need deeper reform of the food system where countries like in Zambia, during COVID, when it couldn't get its products in from South Africa. It focused its food system much more on local production and local business development and became much more self-reliant."

The European Union, he said, is focusing "on food sovereignty" and "energy sovereignty," how they can become less dependent on imports of energy, or imports of food from other countries.

He said this needs to be the model that we see in some of these countries that are suffering, like in the Horn of Africa, that are suffering malnutrition at the moment.

Mr. Gordan concluded by saying we need the same types of policies as those being promoted in the European Union, to many other countries worldwide.

23 July 2022, 12:18