US Gov’t ‘Russia Responsible for Food Crisis in Africa’

Wheat shortages now in  Africa due to Russia-Ukraine war.

--- Denies AU Head and Senegal President Macky Sall's claim that Western sanctions on “Russian banks” are responsible 

The US Government has denied Senegal President Macky Sall's claim that Western sanctions on “Russian banks have made it difficult or impossible for the African countries” to buy grain and fertilizer to tackle the continent's food security crisis.

The Senegalese President, who is also the head of the African Union, has been vocal about the impact of Western sanctions on Russian banks and called for said sanctions to be lifted so as to allow African countries to buy grain from Russia to help solve its food crisis triggered by the invasion of Ukraine.

While the US and EU have yet to sanction Russian fertilizers or wheat, Sall and the African Union have become concerned that sanctions on Russia's financial system had made it harder for countries to buy from Russia. Many African countries rely heavily on Russia and Ukraine for a substantial portion of their wheat, fertilizer, and vegetable oil imports. However, the Ukraine crisis has disrupted global commodities markets and trade flows to Africa, raising the continent's already high food costs. 

But for Jim O’Brien, the US government Head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination at the Department of State, Russia’s invasion should be blamed for the food security crisis in Africa and around the world and not the sanction which is a policy meant to deter Russia from continuing its invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

Brien added that it is Russia that has taken steps that disrupt supply chains by issuing a notice to mariners in the Black Sea, warning people not to send their ships into certain areas.

“That told insurance companies and shipping companies that they should not be going to the ports that historically loaded the big amounts of grain that served especially the Middle East, and Africa,” Brien said during a June 9 digital press briefing on food security in Africa and Sanctions on Russia. “And so the result of that warning is that insurance prices spiked and shipping companies decided to stay away.” 

“And that was Russia’s choice. It made the choice because it is threatening to invade southern Ukraine, and the Ukrainians, of course, are defending their territory,” he said. “What it has meant is that three ports in Ukraine that traditionally carried out grain are closed. Now, Russia says, well, they can reopen them, but of course, it’s threatening to invade. So this is a sort of hollow offer.”

What is Russia's position?

Russia and its leader, President Vladimir Putin have blamed the West for global food crises but are willing to facilitate grain and fertilizer exports as global concern mounts about food shortages -- but only if sanctions on his country are lifted.

The Russian president's had said that the disruptions to food supplies were exacerbated by the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies and that Moscow is “willing to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the exports of grain and fertilizers on the condition that the West’s politically-motivated restrictions are lifted.”  

“I’m not sure” 

Brien noted that while it is true that Western sanctions have changed the way global banks work with Russian banks, however, there are Russian banks that are able to receive payments, and Russia has managed to find ways to receive billions of euros a week for its energy exports.

“So I’m not sure that the problem is in the financial system. The offer I will make is that if someone has a specific example, encourage the government to raise it with the U.S. Embassy and they will bring it back to us and we will clarify what rules are allowed and what are not. I am fully confident that there is a way to pay for this grain, even if it’s through a different mechanism than before.

“So we will address the problem we caused, but again, Russia is bringing in a lot of money for the things it wants to sell, and if it’s not selling food, that’s Russia’s choice,” the US Head Sanctions Coordination added. “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.”

However, Brien noted that the US is working with its European partners very hard to get out as much grain as possible out of Ukraine but, at best, it will probably be about half what it was before, and that’s because Russia has occupied or destroyed 30-odd percent of Ukraine’s grain-producing capability.

Meanwhile, Biden administration Special Envoy for Global Food Security, Dr. Cary Fowler, has disclosed that Africa started out, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in probably the weakest position of any continent.

Dr. Fowler added that in Africa, probably 70 percent of the food that the continent produced stays in Africa, as such, there is a need for food trade to flow between countries so that any small disturbance cannot cause more ripple effects.

He added Ukraine produces enough grain to feed about 400 million people, and that is sitting in silos right now in Ukraine, unable to get out; and in a highly interdependent world, this is going to cause food-price spikes, food-supply availability problems, and that’s going to have an impact on Africa first and foremost.

“It’s also experienced a number of calamities. We’ve had four straight years of drought in the Horn of Africa, and it simply had a long way to go to reach a position of food security. But what’s happened in the current situation is that we see really from the Russia-Ukraine war how interdependent countries are with each other.

“The majority of countries in the world are net food importers, and in terms of Africa, probably 70 percent of the food that’s produced in Africa stays in Africa, and those two facts tell you two things. One is you really need trade to flow, you need food to flow between countries, and that any small disturbance in the global food system can cause ripple effects, and the ripple effects are felt,” Dr. Fowler said.