The executive director of the World Food Program says the global food crisis stands to get even worse in 2023 because of possible reductions in farm production due to shortages of affordable fertilizer.
David Beasley, a former South Carolina governor who has led the WFP since 2017, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that 50 million people in 45 countries already face famine this year, threatening the stability of those nations.
“I'm very concerned next year that we may have … a food availability problem, and that is going to be a crisis beyond anything we have seen in our lifetime," he said.
Beasley cited an estimate by the African Development Bank that there could be a 20% reduction in African food production next year due to a shortage of fertilizer. Much of Africa relies on the production of 33 million smallholder farms, he said.
Droughts this year in Africa, the United States and elsewhere also could contribute to food shortfalls, Beasley said.
Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the possibility of food shortages next year “is an incredibly compounding factor” and underscores the need for other nations to provide additional aid. “The world needs to step up in its own interest,” he said.
The United States has so far struggled to get other nations to provide food aid to meet existing needs, according to Beasley and two administration officials who testified at the hearing, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
“This privilege of helping people in their hour of need is being borne very disproportionately by the United States right now,” Power said.
China has given the World Food Program just $3 million for food aid, Beasley said. European countries have put their focus on helping Ukraine and the refugees from there. Middle Eastern countries, meanwhile, are under pressure from the Biden administration to at least help address food needs in Yemen, which would free WFP resources to be used elsewhere.
Beasley said he is also trying to get Japan and South Korea to provide more aid.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the United Arab Emirates had contributed just $23 million. “I mean, the Emiratis sneeze $23 million every morning they wake up, and yet we can't get more than $23 million to support humanitarian relief,” he said.
Thomas-Greenfield said Russia has slowed the export of its own food while also intimidating African countries that might complain about its actions. “Russian agricultural products are not being blocked. They’re not shipping them out as rapidly as they could for a number of reasons of their own making,” she said.
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Some 17 African countries abstained from a UN vote on Syria because they fear Russian retaliation. “These countries are desperate. They are afraid,” she said.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said of African countries intimidated by Russia, “I hope you can get those nations to speak the truth.”
Power said Russia also had stolen more than $100 million in Ukrainian grain.
The top Republican on the Senate committee, James Risch of Idaho, pushed Beasley to ensure that Russia takes the blame for the food crisis. "This is their fault. It’s not the fault of Ukraine or any other country,” Risch said.
Beasley and Thomas-Greenfield both expressed hope that there will be an agreement soon to allow exports of 20 million tons of Ukrainian food through its Black Sea ports.
“There are additional options that are being pursued. They will never be big enough to deal with the quantity of food” that needs to move from the Black Sea, said Thomas-Greenfield.
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., warned the administration officials that they risk losing the support for the war in Ukraine from Americans who are “so weary" from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are now facing economic problems at home.
“This is the sentiment from the heartland, and our policy needs to be connected to those individuals. Otherwise, we’re going to lose support and make impulsive decisions," Young said.
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