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with the war in Ukraine, 400 million mouths to feed

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Maximum alert. The World Food Program (WFP) warns: the conflict in Ukraine, a former breadbasket that fed “400 million people” including in Africa, has already triggered a wave of hunger all over the world. And the means of action of the organization, with soaring food prices, are reduced. “We have to pay more for these foodstuffs that we buy, and our operations to help these people are suffering,” warns Corinne Fleischer, regional director of the WFP.

→ CONTEXT. War in Ukraine: the wheat planet in turmoil facing the risk of shortage

The war has added a price shock to prices that have already been very high since 2020. The energy crisis has an impact on the cost of agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) but also on the transport of foodstuffs. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) saw its index calculated on a basket of basic products soar last month, surpassing the record of February 2011. “We find courses comparable to 2008-2010, when there were food riots”underlines Lucile Grosjean, deputy director in charge of advocacy at Action against Hunger (ACF).

France, which is chairing the Council of the EU this semester, defends an emergency response with the Twenty-Seven, the G7 and the African Union. This is the international Farm program, for Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission. The coalition ready to participate (exchanges exist with the United States, Germany, India, China and Indonesia) is under construction. It could be launched between now and the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, from April 18 to 24.

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Protectionist reflexes

The contours of the device were unveiled on March 24 in Brussels. It is based on three “pillars” : commercial (release of stocks, lifting of export restrictions); solidarity (increase in production, access to surpluses); and finally agriculture (rural development and agri-food). Paris draws a parallel with the Acta/Covax program set up during the pandemic for access to care and vaccines in the poorest countries.

The protectionist reflexes observed during the Covid-19 crisis in national vaccination strategies began with food. Rwanda and Tanzania, which supplied the Democratic Republic of Congo, have stopped their agricultural exports to their neighbor.

Largely sufficient global stocks

“This is the battle now”, we insist at the Elysée. In the entourage of Emmanuel Macron, we assure that “the volumes available do not pose a problem for feeding the planet”. Hence the importance of releasing the reserves of foodstuffs, or of communicating on the existing stocks.

Lucile Grosjean approves: “If States were more transparent about their stock, showing that there is no risk of a shortage, that would reassure the markets. » One of the challenges will be to convince China, which stores ten million tonnes of wheat each year. This point will be discussed at a remote summit between the EU and Beijing on Friday 1 April.

Playing fair on stocks also helps to see more clearly in the levels of exposure to the crisis. Egypt, 80% dependent on Ukrainian or Russian wheat, would have a stock to last until the end of the year, unlike Lebanon, which lost most of its reserves in the explosion at the port of Beirut. of 2020.

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Between emergency and long term

The second aspect of the Farm project, solidarity, is all the more important since Ukraine, the WFP’s main partner, provided the organization with 14% of its wheat. This weakens countries like Yemen, where 17.4 million people are food insecure. Food riots are feared in the Middle East and North Africa.

Turkey, Bangladesh or Nigeria, highly populated countries, are the main importers of cereals from Russia and Ukraine. More worrying perhaps: Madagascar, already in the grip of hunger, is 60% dependent on Russian wheat.

For Action against Hunger, these populations are also at risk of a lack of resources. “This is the main missing link of the Farm system: social measures are needed so that the poorest can continue to buy food”, insists Lucile Grosjean.

ACF stresses the importance of adopting a long-term approach, to prevent countries that are food-dependent from becoming dependent on agricultural surpluses from elsewhere. In this logic, France highlights the flagship project of “Great Green Wall” in the Sahara and the Sahel, in partnership with the African Union, or a project aimed at developing vegetable proteins.

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