June 17, 2024


We Digest News to tell the Truth

Transcript: Digital Press Briefing on the Impacts of Russia-Ukraine War on Food security in Africa and beyond

Special Online Briefing

Ambassador Cindy McCain

Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome

And Dr. Jim Barnhart

Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

April 5, 2022

The Africa Regional Media Hub


Moderator:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent, and thank all of you for joining this discussion.  Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Ambassador Cindy McCain, the Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, and Dr. Jim Barnhart, Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security at the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Ambassador McCain and Dr. Barnhart will discuss the impact the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine is expected to have on food security in Africa and around the world. 

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ambassador McCain and Dr. Barnhart, then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the briefing.

For those listening in French, you may type your questions in French in the Q&A.  If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use #AFHubPress, and follow us on Twitter @AfricaMediaHub.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record.  And with that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Cindy McCain, the Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, for her opening remarks. 

Ambassador McCain:  Well, thank you.  And I’d like to start by thanking the Africa Media Hub for organizing this incredibly important discussion, and Marissa Scott for keeping us all on track today. 

From day one, my goal as U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies in Rome has been to get food security in the global spotlight.  Food security is not a soft security issue; it is the central issue.  It’s the link between all other great global challenges we face.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought this into very sharp focus.  Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified war on Ukraine has triggered a far-reaching humanitarian crisis.  We’re looking at millions of desperate Ukrainian refugees fleeing the neighbor – fleeing to neighboring countries, skyrocketing food and fertilizer prices around the world, and critical grain shortages in some of the poorest of countries. 

The UN organizations and partners are doing what they do best: responding to this crisis and saving lives.  I was on the ground last week in Poland near the border and visited the World Food Program warehouse, where lifesaving supplies are organized and distributed to areas of need.  I also stopped by the refugee reception center, which serves as a short-term stop for refugees as they move on to safety.  It’s essential that we all continue to rally support for this lifesaving work.

But I would be remiss in my role as U.S. Ambassador to the UN in Rome if I didn’t raise the alarm about the broader threat Putin’s war of choice poses to our global food systems.  UN Security[1] General Guterres said it best: Russia is bombing one of the major bread baskets of the world.  Forty percent of wheat and corn exports from Ukraine go to the Middle East and Africa, which are already grappling with hunger.  Ukraine itself was a major source of wheat for the World Food Program.  WFP is feeding 138 million people in more than 80 countries, including Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Nigeria.  The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that as many as 13 million more people worldwide will be pushed into food insecurity as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The truth of the matter is Putin’s war forces us to take from the hungry to feed the starving.  As long as Russia continues this brutal campaign, innocent people are going to pay the price.  I was recently in Kenya and Madagascar and saw firsthand some extremely vulnerable communities that will suffer even more because of Putin’s war. 

As Assistant Administrator Jim Barnhart will tell you, the United States is very focused on mitigating the effects of this conflict and other shocks to the food system.  As a government, we have invested heavily in resilience-building programs and committed to providing more than $11 billion over the next five years to address food security and nutrition needs worldwide.  But Russia alone can stop this global catastrophe we’re facing, and felt – and also being felt on the African continent and beyond.

Thank you, Marissa, for having me.  I look forward to continuing this discussion with the journalists online. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Dr. Barnhart, over to you. 

Dr. Barnhart:  Well, good morning, good afternoon, everyone, and thank you, Africa Media Hub and Marissa.  And Ambassador McCain, it’s an honor to be sharing the virtual stage with you, and I tip my hat to your steadfast leadership in Rome, working each day to improve the lives of others. 

I just returned from the continent, from the African continent, where I visited some important work that USAID is doing in Senegal and Niger focused, as the Ambassador noted, on resilience and food security, and it’s in the face of major shocks like the war in Ukraine.

Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine not only threatens the lives and livelihoods of everyday Ukrainians, but is already having substantial impact on the global food supply, as the Ambassador noted.  With Russia and Ukraine as major suppliers of the world’s exports and agriculture inputs such as fertilizer, the effects of Putin’s war will reverberate for years to come.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the food security context was already concerning due to the lasting COVID-19 impacts, ongoing humanitarian emergencies, high global food prices, and high fertilizer prices.  Reduced food and supplies and subsequent price increases in these commodities make it harder for farmers in Zambia to access the input they need to plant their crops, and for families in Malawi to buy nutritious food for their children.

So if not mitigated, these price increases could result in significant increases in global poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, particularly in regions like sub-Saharan Africa.  And from the last global food crisis in 2007 and 2008, we saw the destabilizing effect this can have on international order.  During that time, food riots occurred in at least 14 African countries.  And even with the release of grain reserves or the cessation of hostilities, the impacts will persist.  There will be irreversible effects on food production as farmers lack the resources and inputs to plant their spring and summer crops.

But there is much that we can do.  Following the food price spikes in 2008, President Obama launched the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, and it brought American ingenuity to bear to invest long term in sustainable food systems.  Feed the Future and its partners are working to strengthen resilience, food systems, agriculture investments, and improved nutrition, which are foundational to our long-term goal of improving household well-being.

We work to strengthen the systems that get seeds that are disease and pest resistant and drought tolerant to smallholder farmers across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  We work on getting technologies that improve soil health, reduce food loss, and increase agriculture productivity to the areas that need them most.  We improve people’s access to higher quality diets and safer foods.  And we see that these approaches result in farmers getting  more from the land they plant, greater food availability, and expanding the opportunities in local markets.

So an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: experience has shown that $1 invested in resilience efforts, as the ones I just mentioned, can save up to $3 in humanitarian assistance down the road.  So all of this helps to ensure that major shocks like COVID-19, climate change, and conflict are not causing families to slide back into poverty and malnutrition, but able to remain resilient.

So I look forward to working with the international community to protect the world’s most vulnerable from the lasting insecurity as a result of Putin’s war.

So thank you, Marissa, and looking forward to the questions. 

Moderator:  Thank you, Ambassador McCain and Dr. Barnhart.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s briefing.  We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: the impact of the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine and its impact on food security in Africa and around the world.  Please be considerate to other journalists on the call and make your questions as brief as possible. 

Our first question will go to a question that was sent in to us from Ms. Lavasoa Rabary from 2424 out of Madagascar.  Her question is to Ambassador McCain:  “You recently visited Madagascar.  What are the possible impacts of the rise in commodity prices on humanitarian aid intended for countries already suffering from food insecurity such as Madagascar?”

Ambassador McCain:  Well, I appreciate the question, and yes, I did just come back from Madagascar, and I saw firsthand the difficulties that the country is facing.  The second – the bottom half of Madagascar has basically been affected so drastically by climate change, by compounding the climate change issue with already shortening food sources and already the inability to transport food, and if we can transport it, actually get it to where it needs to go, is a compounded problem. 

The fact that our grain – we are going to have huge grain shortages now means that we may bring rations to 50 percent as opposed to 100 percent.  There is going to have to be some tough choices made.  And again I say to you: the only way out of this is to have Vladimir Putin stop bombing so we can save the crops. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to a question – another question that was – that was written in to us, and that question is from Mr. George Stanislas out of newspaper Le Tambourin from the Republic of Central Africa, from the Central African Republic.  His question is:  “Sometimes by scrutinizing the problems, it is preferable to analyze the solutions.  Africa could be the great solution to this food and economic crisis which threatens the entire world.  We all know that Africa holds enormous agricultural and arable land potential.  How does the United States want to help Africa harness this potential to lessen the impact of food security?” 

Over to you, Dr. Barnhart. 

Dr. Barnhart:  That’s a great question, and it’s certainly one that is the centerpiece of the work that we do.  So it’s about thinking of the absolute potential that Africa holds.  It’s about increasing productivity, so getting more per hectare from smallholder farmers that dominate the agriculture sector across the continent.  And so how do we do that?  We work with governments, we work with civil society, private sector, and smallholder farmers themselves on how to get more, sustainably, from the amount of land they have, and whether that’s through climate-smart agriculture investments like I was saying before such as drought tolerant maize or flood tolerant rice, and working with these smallholder farmers on improving uses of fertilizer and getting more for less cost, right. 

So you increase productivity, but then it’s also about sorting through how – the types of seeds, right.  So we are doing biofortified foods, and so improving nutrition for the foods that are being sold.  It’s about linking systems so that whether it’s cold storage, roads, et cetera, it’s about investments that make it easier from the seed to the market, that flow of goods moving as quickly and as efficiently as possible.  And there’s incredible potential there.  It’s a matter of us maintaining our commitment to steadfast investment, particularly with a focus on those smallholders. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go live.  We’ll go live to Pearl Matibe.  Pearl, please unmute yourself and announce your affiliation. 

Question:  Thank you so much.  My question is I’d like – I hear what you shared about much of Southern Africa.  My question is to both Ambassador McCain and to Dr. Barnhart.  My focus is on SADC countries, and I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in the SADC countries, there’s at least 10 of them in which 36 million people are right now already projected to be acute food insecure.  So if you could speak, for example, on Eswatini, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, and what pressures that might have on a country like South Africa.  These are countries which before the war started in Ukraine were already under this food-insecure projection.  So they are also countries that use fertilizer, of which fertilizer has got two components within that fertilizer product that is going to now double the impacts of a situation they were already experiencing.  Many of these countries were already more than 50 percent exposed to wheat and other products from Russia and Ukraine.  Could you speak to these specific countries – Eswatini, Lesotho, Zambia, for example – and what pressure might that have on South Africa?  Thank you. 

Ambassador McCain:  Jim, why don’t you take this? 

Dr. Barnhart:  Sure.  And I actually served for four years in Zambia overseeing our agriculture programs there when – and this is 15 years ago.  But I think a lot of the same pressures apply there then that are now, and as you said, that the current crisis has only exacerbated the problem, particularly for the most vulnerable smallholder farmers and the support systems that they have in those countries.

Look, I think this is a time when we are working in – and I know Ambassador McCain is working on this as well – where we’re trying to make sure that our humanitarian and our development partners are very closely synced, working closely together, right.  Because this is a crisis where you’ve having people who are at the edge of crisis, but are getting along, potentially tipping over into requiring humanitarian assistance.  And so the types of programs that we’ve been putting together for the last 10 years of Feed the Future has been trying to support those families to keep them from falling into that crisis.  We’ve found that work that we’ve done in Malawi, for instance, in communities on building resilience, which is overlaying the – it’s everything from nutrition, small-scale infrastructure, smart – climate-smart agriculture investments – has kept those particular communities in a much better place through COVID, for instance.  In fact, they’re showing three to four times more resilience than communities that weren’t.  So we know that those kind of investments work.

Now, in the present situation I think what we have to do is what we are currently doing as an international community, and in fact I was on a Group of 7, G7 call yesterday with my global partners in the – on food security, trying to ensure that we are keeping very much focused on where the problems are starting to see themselves manifesting post-Putin’s war, and then making sure that we are targeting both humanitarian and development assistance in lockstep to support these communities. 

This is a big challenge and it’s not one that any one country can solve alone, right.  It’s going to be one where we’re going to be – we need to work with our host country partner countries, we’re going to be working with the private sector, and again bringing humanitarian and development partners together to come up with some solutions. 

I mean, one of those that we’re pushing right now and we need to make sure that all of us stay on top of is ensuring that we don’t take – that this crisis doesn’t force countries to close borders and start restricting trade in things such as fertilizer.  And so I think in trying to work with SADC and the African Union and other countries to ensure that we keep the borders open and we keep fertilizer and seed moving across the continent as the market demands is one way to help mitigate and make it less likely that we move into crisis.  But there’s so many other pieces to this, and we’re just – it’s still early days.  Honestly, we’re going to have to stay on top of it.  We’re still collecting data both at the country level and at a regional and global level and trying to track on where we see the most sensitive potential areas globally. 

Sorry, Marissa, that was probably too long of a response. 

Moderator:  [Laughter.]  No problem.  Thank you. 

Ambassador McCain:  May I also add to that?

Moderator:  Please. 

Ambassador McCain:  An element that comes into this that Jim alluded to and that – and he eloquently described what’s going on, is of course science and technology.  And we encourage our folks that we talk to and those around the world that we’ve got to start thinking outside the box with regards to how we can help promote sustainability and enable sustainability.  And so I’d like to remind everybody throughout this that we love our scientists and we want more of them so that we can do more with less. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’re going to shift to Rwanda, to a question that was put in to our chat but also that was sent in to us from TopAfricaNews.com from Mr. Ange de la Victoire Dusabemungu.  And his question is:  “Another issue concerns refugees in camps such as the Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda.  There is a shortage of food in the world, so what do you plan for these refugees either in Rwanda or elsewhere in Africa?  Also, can you tell us about the United States sustainable food program, especially for the East African region, as it is a region prone to drought?”

Let’s start with Ambassador McCain and then Dr. Barnhart, if you have anything to add. 

Ambassador McCain:  You raise a really good question about your refugee camps not just in Rwanda, but the longstanding ones that are in Kenya and some other parts of Africa.  They will also be touched by this food insecurity and by this food shortage that is occurring now.  So decisions are perhaps going to have to be made about what the long-term prospect is for refugee camps, and I’m talking – I’m specifically talking about the ones in Kenya right now.  The Rwandan ones are not quite in the same situation.  But they will – I think your underlying question is will they be forgotten, and the answer is no, but there will be less; in the short term there will be less food to go around is really the bottom line. 

Jim, I don’t know if you have anything to add to that. 

Dr. Barnhart:  I think you’ve answered that one very well, Ambassador.  I would say that I think the second part of the question was what we’re doing in East Africa on food security programming, and I can say that with our Feed the Future program – let me, if you don’t mind, take a moment to describe what we try to do with this program.  So it’s a whole-of-government program, right, and it involves – it is USAID, it is State Department, it is Department of Agriculture, another 10 U.S. Government entities including the National Space Administration, NASA.  And so we work together as a whole of U.S. Government to try to address food insecurity and malnutrition around the world.

In East Africa, for instance, one of the things that we’re doing is we’ve brought in NASA and their expertise on satellite imagery to do mapping of groundwater and other kinds of changes in climate, and so to try to provide information to smallholder farmers through digital technology, small – to cell phones on planting seasons, crop planning for any kind of weather disruption.  And so that’s one way that we’re doing that.  And we also then work in particular parts of the country, parts of countries – we call them zones of influence – where we see that the overlay of climate change and poverty are causing these parts of these countries to get in potential crisis.  And so we bring in all sorts of technology, as the Ambassador noted, and then other types of investments to try to help these communities not only get through these crisis, but actually thrive in the long run.  And so that’s what we’re trying to do in East Africa, Southern Africa, and West Africa as well. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to a question in our question and answer from Mr. Edward Acquah, a journalist from the Ghana News Agency in Ghana.  His question is:  “What should Africa do immediately to cushion itself against food insecurity and food insecurity threats amidst war?” 

Dr. Barnhart:  Should I – should I try it?  Oh, Ambassador, it looks like you’re unmuted.  I’m –

Ambassador McCain:  No, either way. 

Moderator:  Go ahead. 

Ambassador McCain:  Why don’t we both take it.  We’ll do that. 

Africa is, in the short term on things like this, especially when we talk about crop production and regional and local small farms as well, we – part of what Jim also just mentioned there a little bit ago was water.  And I think with good water management in the short term and in the long term, that can be very helpful to not only growing better crops but crops that perhaps could use less water and produce more.  It’s a challenge, though.  This is going to be a challenge within the short term, for sure. 

Dr. Barnhart:  And I agree 100 percent with the Ambassador’s points, and I would say that there are things that – and I mentioned this before – it is important that we – that the governments of the continent, like the rest of the world, do their best to not close themselves off.  Stay open to trade.  Allow markets to operate.  Do not close off shipping routes to – whether that be fertilizer, seeds, et cetera.  Allow that movement of trade.  And then also be able to, if needed, reallocate resources to ensure that the most vulnerable are getting nutrition support required and other kinds of basic staples to allow them to get through this period.  It’s going to be tough and I think the Ambassador is quite right in stating that this is a period that is – that none of us foresaw given the fact that this was an unprovoked war that has put us into a very difficult situation. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go live to Matthew.  Matthew, please identify yourself and your media outlet. 

Question:  My name is Oguagi Martin [ph] and I’m from OneState [ph], Nigeria.  Hope you can hear me.  

Moderator:  Yes, we can hear you.  Go ahead and ask your question. 

Question:  Okay.  Like, Nigeria and other countries was already – are currently running on a ban for importations from other countries, and just to enable a grassroots local growth of rice and other food items.  How do you intend to manage that?  How do you intend to reach out to those countries to support the mission?  Thank you. 

Moderator:  I’m just going to – because I only caught snippets of your question.  Is the crux of your question how the U.S. is going to help those countries that already were experiencing some issues with food insecurity?  I’m sorry, could you just repeat the actual question?

Question:  Yes. 

Moderator:  Okay, that was it? 

Question:  That are currently running a ban – there is a ban on importation.

Moderator:  Okay, a ban on importation. 

Question:  Ban on importation.  Yes. 

Moderator:  Okay. 

Question:  How they –

Moderator:  Dr. Barnhart, do you want to answer that?  I mean, I think he’s specifically talking about Nigeria as well. 

Dr. Barnhart:  That’s what I heard as well.  I think what – if I understood him correctly, what he was saying is that there’s been a policy in place for some time to promote local production of probably food staples and other agriculture products by slowing down the importation of those products from elsewhere in the world.  That – and that’s not what I’m talking about, right.  What I’m talking about are just slowing down the trade of, say, Nigeria can produce and export fertilizer, right?  So what we’re trying to do is ensure that Nigeria continues to export fertilizer and other products that it makes around the continent, because there are a number of countries – I was just in Niger – that are quite dependent on trade with Nigeria, and hopefully that trade can continue to flow. 

The idea of promoting local investments in agriculture products I think is a good one, and I think we can have debates about the policy measures that are the best way to do that.  Nigeria has chosen to do what’s called an import substitution model where they ban imports of products to promote that.  We can discuss that.  I think the bottom line is that if the Nigeria smallholder farmer is able to improve their quality of life, then that would be something we’d want to talk further about.  But it’s an interesting – it’s an interesting idea. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  We’re going to go to one of the listening parties.  We have two listening parties going on, one in Kigali, Rwanda, and the other in Kinshasa, DRC.  So question in our Q&A from that listening party in the Democratic Republic of Congo is as follows:  “The effect of the Russian invasion on Ukraine is being felt in Africa, particularly in the DRC, which right now has a food shortage, a shortage of fuel.  What does the United States and OPEC foresee as drastic measures that they can take to help African countries facing the energy crisis?”  And that’s from Dan Kalala Kalambay in Kinshasa. 

So why don’t we start maybe with you, Dr. Barnhart, and then to you, Ambassador McCain – just the effect on fuel prices and fuel shortage and what the United States and OPEC can do. 

Dr. Barnhart:  Well, the issue of fuel price rises, it has two – it’s impacting the market in two fundamental ways, right.  So in terms of a lot of the petroleum and gas products are turned into fertilizer, so that’s part of the problem in terms of the rising prices that we’re seeing for fertilizer around the world, and in some areas there’s an issue of supply in parts of Africa with fertilizer which then impacts the yields of and productivity of farmers across the continent.  And then secondly, thehigher fuel prices is increasing the cost of movement of agriculture products around the world, correct?  So we’re seeing two effects that are raising these prices.

We don’t necessarily work with OPEC.  That’s not – I’m focused on the farmers and the market systems and such.  And so we’re – we basically do our best to adjust and support communities and countries that are addressing this, are facing this particular crisis.  And maybe I don’t – I’m not even sure, Ambassador McCain, if the OPEC question is something that you would want to take on either.  But it’s something, basically, that we respond to and do our best to be proactive with in supporting our partner countries around the world.

Ambassador McCain:  No.  You’re correct.  I – we do not deal with OPEC either.  But I can say this.  First of all, to those of you in DRC, you have an extraordinarily beautiful country, and I’ve spent a lot of time in DRC.  What I can tell you is that I think, aside from everything else that Dr. Barnhart just mentioned, I think also you need to look to leadership for this within your own country and ask your leaders to help now and ask your leaders to be participating in what is a crisis.

And so – and I say that to every country leadership that I talk with because it’s important that we all work together on these issues and work together on making sure that our most vulnerable don’t take the brunt of it once again.  So I encourage you to speak out against your – not against your leadership but to your leadership and offer your ideas and solutions and work together to hopefully curtail some of the problems.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We’re running out of time.  We have some minutes left, and I hope our speakers can stick with us for a little bit longer.  This question comes from Pamela Machado out of Zitamar News out of London, and her question is about Mozambique.  The question is:  “How can we expect this conflict to affect Mozambique and vulnerable communities in the country more specifically, a country that is also suffering from food insecurity, considering that Mozambique already suffered from food insecurity stemming from climate change?  Are there any programs that USAID has in Mozambique that could affect this? 

If we could hear from you, Dr. Barnhart, and then from you, Ambassador McCain, if there is anything you’d like to add.

Dr. Barnhart:  Sure.  I don’t have at my fingertips our Mozambique program for USAID.  I know that we have a robust USAID mission there, and I know that the broader U.S. Government has a strong presence there and looks to Mozambique as an excellent partner in a whole variety of sectors, everything from agriculture and economic growth to education and health, of course.

So I can’t speak to the mission’s programs because I don’t have that brief in front of me, but I can say that I know for certain that the – the mission – the way that we operate is we develop our five-year programs in direct coordination with and under the leadership of our host country partners.  And so whatever the programs that the U.S. Government’s supporting through USAID in Mozambique is one that has basically been led by both the Mozambican Government and civil society and private sector consultations to address the most pressing development challenges that the country faces to help, again, support both through crises but also to transform and to continue along improving the lives of the population.

Ambassador McCain:  Jim just said it very well.  We have extraordinary partnerships.  Our UN agencies have great partners on the ground within Mozambique and throughout Africa to do – to do just those kinds of things, to work together with the countries named and also to look to the future and how we can solve these problems or at least mitigate them in the short term.

But partnerships, public-private partnerships as well, are very, very important to what – the kind of work that USAID does and the kind of work that our other UN agencies do also.  I’m very proud of what – of the work that they do.

Moderator:  Another question that we have is regarding small island states, so specifically Mauritius.  And one of our questions from Christopher in Mauritius from the Defimedia Group is:  “What could be the worst-case scenario impact on the Mauritius Islands?”  So we could take this to also go for any other islands: the Comoros, Cabo Verde, the small island states that bear a large brunt already from climate change and now from the war in Ukraine. 

Your thoughts, Ambassador McCain?

Ambassador McCain:  Well, you just said it now.  Climate change is the biggest – the biggest issue.  I mean, when you – when you look at islands like Mauritius, other – Seychelles, et cetera, the Maldives, I mean, and through the Pacific as well, climate change is affecting them drastically.  And in some cases, many of those islands won’t be around anymore in 10 years.

So the urgency of climate change mitigation and the urgency of, once again, thinking outside the box, figuring out better and brighter ways to not only produce food but ways to feed and, of course, sustain feeding of the people that live within those regions is extremely important.  And I think there’s a lot of these smaller agencies and certainly the larger ones as well that are doing a great job trying to figure this out. 

But it’s a tough problem.  And unless we have the support and the buy-in from large countries around the world, those of us working – helping to work with smaller countries, it’s just going to be – it’s going to be like a rat on a wheel.  I mean, we’re just not going to get anywhere unless we get buy-in from other countries.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next question – I have quite a few coming in right now, and I know we are going to be wrapping up soon.  But we are going back to Bob in Ghana, Bobbie Osei from Citi FM in Ghana.  “So Ghana imports 30 percent of its wheat and fertilizer from Russia.  What specific steps or actions can Ghana’s government take to ensure we are insulated in the future from such developments that impact access to key commodities?  And also, what other insights do you have on the best way forward for Ghana in terms of improving the country’s food security?” 

If I could just go to Ambassador McCain to expand on what she was saying about talking to government leaders and leadership being one of the responses to the crisis.  Over to you, Ambassador McCain.

Ambassador McCain:  Well, thank you.  And again, we have got to look to leadership.  And those citizens within the countries, in Ghana and others, and those from all across Africa have the right and the absolute necessity to demand that of their leadership.  It – you can’t – it’s – certainly, you will always have the United States of America to be a great partner in trying to help –

Moderator:  Okay.  I see that we’re having some technical issues with Ambassador McCain’s screen.  Dr. Barnhart, would you like to continue?

Dr. Barnhart:  Sure.  I think one of the things that we have been trying to do as both Feed the Future and broader USAID is building capacity on the African continent for a whole variety of sectors related to – or a whole variety of subsectors related to the food security and nutrition.  And so how do we do that?

And so I think one of the lessons learned, I believe, is that we need to continue to work with our partner countries, U.S. Government and other international partners and the UN system, to help them develop the capacity for production of these types of inputs so that you have some self-sufficiency.  And it would still allow for the global markets to flourish, and I think the idea of trade is incredibly important that we continue to maintain, but also build that capacity so that the – that Ghana has the ability to withstand certain shocks.  So that is something that we continue to work on with our partners.

Moderator:  Thank you.  So it looks like you’re going to take the brunt of the questions now as we wait for Ambassador McCain to get back on and for you guys to deliver your closing remarks.  This question comes from Dr. Jeremy Taylor, who is a media liaison for INGO out of Kenya.  His question is:  “Is there a risk that other crises will be de-prioritized, particularly those impacted by food security, as a result of the conflict in Ukraine?”  So obviously, you’re with USAID.  You know we’ve been working on COVID.  You know we’ve been working on a number of other – eradicating diseases.  This added pressure of the war in Ukraine, does it make us have to rob Peter to pay Paul?

Dr. BarnhartWell, I think it’s a – it’s a fair question, and I think it’s one that – and those of us in the development world are very much attempting to grapple with and address.  It’s why in our – as I said, I was in a G7 meeting just yesterday on this particular issue with our food security partners within the G7 trying to ensure that (a) we’ve got the best data.  And so (a) we need to know as quickly as possible but as thoroughly as possible where we’re seeing the biggest crises.  At the moment, we’re still – it’s still early days in the crisis in terms of broader global food security issue, right. 

We’re seeing price increases.  We’re looking at supply, where are the stocks, particularly for staples and where are the stocks for fertilizer?  What are we looking at for the next – the next growing cycle, particularly on the African continent, to make sure that we maintain the – a laser‑like focus on those areas where we see the biggest threats for communities coming to the fore.  And so is there a possibility?  I would say that it’s more a matter of trying to make sure that we maintain a focus on where those problem sets are.  And it’s still early days yet for us to be able to try to figure out exactly where that would be.  But I guess we are definitely on the case.  It’s my – it’s what keeps me up at night, trying to make sure that we’re staying on top of this crisis that is moving very quickly and is still – and is still one that we’re grappling with.  I think we have the Ambassador back.

Moderator:  We do and just in time for us to have closing remarks.  Ambassador McCain, are you with us?  It looks like the screen might be frozen.  We may still have some technical issues.  Okay.  Well, I do know that you all both have other meetings that you have to get to, and we really want to thank you for your time.  So at this time, that concludes today’s call.  I want to see if Ambassador McCain – if she’s able to get back on, or, Dr. Barnhart, do you have any final remarks?

Dr. Barnhart:  Well, first of all, thank you very much, Marissa and the Africa Media Hub, for putting this together.  I think it’s very important and timely.  I think that the impacts of Putin’s war are being felt far beyond Ukraine’s borders.  And it’s having huge impacts on global food security and nutrition and particularly for countries that are already vulnerable, as we’ve been discussing. 

I think the – our U.S. government’s Feed the Future Program brings together partners that are, as I was saying, attempting to analyze the short-, medium- and long-term effects of this war on global food security and nutrition.  And we are doing our best to partner with our partner – with our countries around the world on this issue. 

So I look forward to working alongside our both local and regional networks, strengthening policies that support open trade and robust food systems.  And we also right now are coordinating with other donors to share real-time data on the effects of –

Ambassador McCain:  I’m so sorry.  I don’t know.

Moderator:  Well, we – we can – we can definitely hear you now.  Dr. Barnhart is just giving some closing remarks, and then we’ll go to you, ma’am, for your final remarks.

Ambassador McCain:  – having me and I sincerely appreciate the journalists covering this and (inaudible) people understand that internet issues –

Moderator:  Okay. 

Ambassador McCain:  Anyway, I don’t know.

Moderator:  Okay.  Look, we see you.  We see you now, and we can hear you.

Ambassador McCain:  Thank you all for having me.  You – I’ll make it quick.  Thank you for having me.  Journalists, thanks for talking about these issues regarding Ukraine, Russia, et cetera, and stay on these food issues.  We need you.

Moderator:  Dr. Barnhart, anything else from your side?

Dr. Barnhart:  No, I – just to thank the Ambassador for being a part of this today and for the excellent questions from the journalists.  Thank you all very much.  And let’s please keep these things going.  This is important dialogue, so thank you, Marissa and the Africa Media Hub.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Well, that concludes today’s call.  I want to thank Ambassador Cindy McCain, the Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to UN agencies in Rome, and Dr. Jim Barnhart, Assistant to the Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov.  Thank you.

# # # #

[1] Secretary General Guterres

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

TOPAFRICANEWS.COM © All rights reserved.