December 6, 2022

Two top Biden officials reject Moscow’s big lie, say U.S. does not sanction Russian food and fertilizer and cannot be responsible for global food crisis

Dr. Cary Fowler, Special Envoy for Global Food Security
Dr. Cary Fowler, Special Envoy for Global Food Security

Two top Biden administration officials on Thursday categorically rejected a false narrative by Moscow that the United States was to blame for global food insecurity because its sanctions on Russia were responsible for hunger around the world.

Speaking with journalists from across the African continent and the world, U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security Dr. Cary Fowler and Head of the Office of Sanctions CoordinationAmbassador Jim O’Brien said the United States does not sanction Russian food and fertilizer, and cannot be responsible for global food crisis affecting people all the way from Europe to Africa.

“Two points that I hope run through all of our conversation. One, the U.S. does not sanction Russian food and fertilizer, and we can discuss what some people are saying about this, but we do not. Our European colleagues are not restricting Russian exports to the Global South. They have some limitations on importing Russian food and fertilizer into their own territories. So the story that the sanctions are causing the problem I think is deeply misleading,” said the Head of the Office of Sanctions CoordinationAmbassador Jim O’Brien.

“Nevertheless, the second main point I’ll make is we are working to try to fix the problems caused by this invasion. So where we hear of problems, we will address them directly. Sometimes companies are confused about what’s allowed and what’s not, and we will try to clarify so that they are able to go forward. But we are also working proactively by trying to inform companies about what they are allowed to do so that it’s clear there’s nothing stopping Russia from exporting its food and fertilizer except decisions Russia has made,” O’Brien added.

Dr. Fowler noted that although the world was facing “difficult times before the unprovoked war of aggression of Russia into Ukraine,” the situation has “greatly exacerbated the global food crisis.”

“We’ve faced food crises before, but this one is unique in many ways because it’s multicausal. We’re dealing with climate change, we’re dealing with conflict, and we’re dealing with COVID. The situation in the Ukraine has, by all estimates, pushed – is pushing about 40 million additional people into the ranks of the food-insecure, a totally unnecessary situation,” he said.

Dr. Fowler conceded that while Russia cannot be mainly and exclusively blamed for hunger in Africa, it is adding to the problem.

He said, “Well, yeah, thank you very much for that question. I don’t think anyone in the United States with the U.S. Government is pushing a narrative that the food crisis in Africa is predominantly, mainly, exclusively caused by the war in Ukraine. There certainly is a narrative coming out of Russia that this problem could be solved if only the Ukraine would export its grain, if only the United States would drop its sanctions, and that’s certainly false.

“We know that the causes of food crisis in Africa are multidimensional. You mentioned climate. Yes, we’re – we’ve had more than 400 consecutive months where the global average temperature for a particular month exceeded the 20th century average. You can simply look at the climate data from Africa and tell that we’re in the midst of climate change in Africa and we’re headed towards climates mid-century that have never before been experienced by agriculture, by our crops. Obviously, this is presenting a huge challenge not just for the future – right now. We also have water challenges because we’re drawing out – agriculture takes in Africa 80 percent of freshwater supplies already, so we’re not talking about a great deal of leeway in terms of adding more water into agricultural systems.

“But what we could be doing and what the United States is working with African countries to do is to make water use more efficient; to breed and disseminate drought-tolerant varieties of the different major agricultural crops; and to begin to integrate into those vegetables and legumes to make a more resilient, robust, stronger food system in Africa.

“So the questioner is right. This is not all to be laid on the situation in the Ukraine. It was a complex situation with, by the way, fairly low grain stocks when we went – on February 24th, when Russia invaded Ukraine. But given the nature of the interdependence of countries, people, markets in the food space, what we see is that while you can’t solve a food crisis overnight, you can certainly cause one. And that’s what President Putin has done, and exacerbated the situation all around the globe. You’re feeling it in Africa; people are feeling it all across the world.”

You can read the full exchange here.

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