February 2, 2023

Russia exacerbating food insecurity in Africa, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says in Zambia

Janet Yellen
Janet Yellen

Russia’s war in Ukraine has hurt Africa by exacerbating food insecurity on the continent, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen said on Tuesday on the second leg of her three-nation, 10-day African visit.

“Simply put, Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against its neighbor has hurt Africa by exacerbating existing food insecurity and creating an unnecessary drag on the continent’s economy,” she said in remarks at Green Climate Fund Agriculture Site in Lusaka, Zambia.

Apart from Russia, Yellen asserted that global food systems have been strained by climate change, regional conflicts and COVID’s economic disruptions.

“The first to be hit hard are the world’s poor – in the United States as well, but particularly in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere,” she said. “Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Africa. And this difficult situation has been exacerbated by Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine, which has further stressed food, fuel, and fertilizer prices across the world. Russia’s war has cut off significant supplies of wheat, corn, and sunflower oil destined to global markets, including in Africa, leading to shortages and price spikes. Higher global energy prices raised shipping costs for food and other commodities, squeezing cash-strapped countries. And a surge in the price of fertilizer has hurt agricultural output in communities across Africa.”

She said that around two million people face acute food insecurity — and nearly half of the population is unable to meet their minimum caloric intake requirements in Zambia.

Yellen arrived in Dakar, Senegal, on Wednesday, last week, before traveling to Zambia, and will be concluding her trip in South Africa.

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield will travel to Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya, starting January 25 to strengthen ties with the three African nations and push the controversial transition to the green economy, her office announced on Sunday.

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. himself announced last month during the second U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington D.C. that he will visit sub-Saharan Africa in 2023, the first trip by a sitting U.S. president since then President Barack Obama visited a decade ago.

The U.S. Mission to the UN said Thomas-Greenfield’s visit is to “affirm and strengthen our partnerships with key current and former U.N. Security Council members.”

She will first visit Ghana, where she will meet with women leaders and civil society representatives on January 25, the U.S. Mission said. Ghana is an elected member of the UN Security Council completing a two-year term.

She will then head to Mozambique, which unlike Ghana, is just starting its first-ever two-year term on the council.

The U.S. Mission to the UN added that during her visit, January 26-27, Thomas-Greenfield will meet with UN officials, alumni of U.S. exchange programs, international relations students, civil society and entrepreneurs.

From Mozambique, she will head to Kenya January 28-29, whose two-year term on the UN Security Council ended on December 31.

In Kenya, Thomas-Greenfield’s visit will focus on humanitarian programs, including the regional response to drought and assistance to refugees, her office said.

It added that the visit will also focus on “the impact Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to have on global food security, which has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the region.”

She will also meet refugees pending resettlement in the United States and Kenya-based entrepreneurs who are leading “the country’s transition to a green economy.”

Both visits by Yellen and Greenfield are part of President Biden’s attempt to strengthen ties with the continent and counter China and Russia.

During his remarks at the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC last December, President Biden announced new investments focused on boosting infrastructure and trade and countering the growing influence of China and Russia.

He said that the U.S. will support innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa, and that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is investing $370 million in the continent to increase access to clean energy and supply farmers with fertilizers and help companies that bring water to communities.

In addition, Biden announced a new initiative to allow Africa participate in the digital economy that would include collaborations between Viasat and Microsoft to bring internet access to at least five million people in Africa.

He added, “I proposed this initiative together with the rest of the G7 to help fill the need for quality, high-standard infrastructure in Africa and in low-income and middle-income countries around the world.  And at the G7 meeting earlier this year, we announced our intention to collectively mobilize $600 billion in the next five years.

“Today’s announcements joint — join a portfolio of Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment projects already underway in Africa, including mobilizing $8 billion in public and private finance to help South Africa replace coal-fired power plants with renewable energy sources and develop cutting-edge energy solutions like clean hydrogen; a deal worth $2 billion to build solar energy projects in Angola; $600 million in high-speed telecommunications cable that will connect Southeast Asia to Europe via Egypt and the Horn of Africa and help bring high-speed Internet connectivity to countries all along the way,” added Biden.

In Washington on Tuesday, responding to concerns and perceptions that Africa is again being used as a battlefield for a proxy war between East and West, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the U.S. partnership in Africa is not about other nations. 

She said, “As demonstrated by our commitments at the U.S.- Africa Leaders’ Summit, the United States sees African countries as genuine partners and wants to build relationship based on mutual respect. That’s what you saw at the summit.  And that’s what the President has been consistent on, and that’s what we want to see. 
 
“Our focus is on Africa and our efforts to strengthen these partnerships across a wide range of sectors spanning from businesses to health to peace and security. Building on those efforts, we’ve had Secretary Blinken and Secretary Yellen travel to the region very recently. 
 
“And as you noted, we have Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s upcoming travel to Ghana, Mozambique, and Kenya.  And that’s going to be from January 25th to the 29th. 
 
“The Ambassador’s — this is going to be the Ambassador’s third trip to the Sub-Saharan Africa.  And since she took up her position as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, she’s gone three times under this current tenure that she’s currently doing. 
 
“And you will continue to see us following through the President’s commitment and to step — and to step up our engagement across Africa this year and beyond. 
 
“And, look, this is a commitment.  We saw it when we put the summit together with 49, 50 heads of states who were here, right here in D.C.  And that was over three days. 
 
“And the President participated in the summits, his team participated in the summit, and we talked about issues that really mattered to the continent and issues that really mattered to us as well.”

READ full remarks by Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen at Green Climate Fund Agriculture Site

U.S. Department of the Treasury
Secretary Statements & Remarks
January 24, 2023

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you very much. It’s great to be here. This project shows how our countries can partner to address two of the most critical issues facing Zambia and the world: food security and climate adaptation.

Today, hunger and food insecurity are exacting a heavy toll on communities around the world, including right here in Zambia. The number of people facing acute food insecurity has risen to 345 million across over 80 countries. In Zambia, around 2 million people face acute food insecurity — and nearly half of the population is unable to meet their minimum caloric intake requirements.

Global food systems have been strained for some time by climate change, regional conflicts, and COVID’s economic disruptions. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Africa. And this difficult situation has been exacerbated by Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine, which has further stressed food, fuel, and fertilizer prices across the world. Russia’s war has cut off significant supplies of wheat, corn, and sunflower oil destined to global markets, including in Africa, leading to shortages and price spikes. Higher global energy prices raised shipping costs for food and other commodities, squeezing cash-strapped countries. And a surge in the price of fertilizer has hurt agricultural output in communities across Africa.

The first to be hit hard are the world’s poor – in the United States as well, but particularly in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. Simply put, Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against its neighbor has hurt Africa by exacerbating existing food insecurity and creating an unnecessary drag on the continent’s economy.

During last month’s Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, President Biden and I met with African heads of state to discuss how we can redouble our efforts to strengthen food security. Today, I want to speak to the actions we are taking to respond to the urgent food security crisis. I would also like to speak to our long-term partnership with African nations to build more resilient food systems. Our goal is to get to a place where the need for humanitarian aid is exceptional and rare. And we want to advance a future where Africa participates more fully in global food and fertilizer markets and supply chains.

The United States is taking strong and immediate actions to alleviate hunger. Last year, the United States committed $13 billion in humanitarian and food security assistance across the globe. This includes President Biden’s announcement last month of $2 billion in emergency, lifesaving assistance in Africa.

We have also rallied countries and international organizations to avoid export restrictions and impediments to humanitarian aid delivery. It is important that food and other critical supplies can flow more freely. The United States has made sure to exempt food and key agricultural commodity exports from its sanctions programs to further enable their flow onto global markets.

And we have worked with partners to facilitate Ukrainian food exports through the Black Sea Grain Initiative, including shipments bound for Africa.

And with our partners, we are leading efforts to stabilize global energy prices by introducing a cap on the price of Russian oil. This policy maintains flows of discounted Russian oil – helping mitigate further price shocks on emerging economies while also reducing Russian revenues.

While the policy is in the early stages of implementation, Treasury estimates that it could result in around $6 billion in annual savings for the 17 largest net oil-importing African countries.

We are also working with international financial institutions to surge and scale their food security efforts. Last April, I convened a “call to action” with the heads of these institutions and representatives from the G7 and G20 to spur coordinated global action. The World Bank is implementing up to $30 billion in projects — including $12 billion in new programming — to respond to the food security crisis. The African Development Bank continues to advance a $1.5 billion facility to address the food crisis in Africa. This facility is projected to benefit 20 million African smallholder farmers. With new seeds and fertilizer, these farmers will be better prepared to rapidly produce up to 38 million tons of wheat, maize, rice, and soybeans to meet the demands of the continent.

As we tackle acute needs now, we must also take a longer view and scale up investment in long term food system resilience. Africa is a perfect example of these dual challenges. It is a continent that faces acute food needs. But it is one that also has the potential not only to feed itself but also to help feed the world – if the right steps are taken. As an example, Zambia’s maize production has the potential to turn it into a regional food hub.

Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States announced a U.S.-Africa strategic partnership on food security at the Africa Leaders Summit last month. We will work together to improve Africa’s access to global agricultural commodity markets and meet its growing demand for fertilizer. And we will promote effective agricultural practices and approaches, including strengthening climate resilience.

Let me speak for a moment specifically on climate. We know that over the last decade, storms, floods, and droughts in Africa have increased in severity and frequency. This has hurt agricultural yields. The same is true globally as well. Indeed, farmers – like the ones we work with here – are often the first witnesses of the changing climate and its consequences. They know that climate change is not just a future threat; it is already here.

We must take urgent action to adapt agricultural practices and technology to the changing climate. The project we are visiting today helps small-scale farmers better manage the impacts of climate change. It’s funded by the Green Climate Fund, which the United States is proud to be a part of. We are committed to making sure that the Fund has sufficient resources to carry on this important work. We are also advancing climate adaptation through our latest $155 million contribution to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program. We are prioritizing innovative projects, such as providing farmers with new seeds that are more resilient to droughts, heat, and other extreme conditions. Already today, two-thirds of the Program’s projects are climate-related.

Africa’s long-term strategy to address food security also requires developing its infrastructure and logistics capabilities. The continent needs a robust capacity not only to grow food, but to make sure it can be cultivated, stored, and efficiently transported. The G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment will mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars over the next five years into a range of global infrastructure investments. The United States is also advocating against export bans in the agricultural sector so that food can move more freely. And we are strongly supportive of increased trade between African countries through the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

An issue of personal importance to me is the role of women in the economy and society. In Zambia, women constitute more than half of the agricultural labor force. And yet significant gender inequities persist in access to land, capital, seeds, and fertilizer. This suppresses agricultural productivity and harms output. I believe that we must advance the cause of women farmers across Africa. It’s the right thing to do. But it is also crucial for food security and the economy.

This is a difficult time for many in Africa and around the globe. But that makes our partnership even more important. As President Biden said last month, it’s not just about showing the will to work with Africans. It’s also about doing the hard work of tackling these challenges together. We are prepared to do just that.

Thank you.


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