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A senior U.S. official said Friday that sub-Saharan Africa is the region hardest hit by disruptions to the global food supply due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"Food prices worldwide are 23% higher than a year ago, but they hit the hardest in sub-Saharan Africa where food consumes 40% of household budgets," Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told an audience at the University of Ghana in Accra. "Regardless of how you feel about Russia, we all have a powerful common interest in mitigating the impact of the war on Ukraine on food security."
Thomas-Greenfield, who is the U.S. envoy to the United Nations and a member of President Joe Biden's Cabinet, is on a four-day tour in Africa this week, making stops in Uganda, Ghana, and Cabo Verde focused on the impact of food insecurity on the continent.
She emphasized that before Russia invaded Ukraine, which is a major global grain and vegetable oil producer, over 190 million people were food insecure worldwide, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Well, since Russia's unprovoked war, full-scale invasion into Ukraine, we estimate that number could rise to 230 million," Thomas-Greenfield said. "That would mean that more than 40 million people will have become food insecure since President (Vladimir) Putin chose to invade his neighbor and steal their land. That's more people than the entire population of Ghana."
While in Accra, she announced more than $127 million in new humanitarian assistance for Africa, focused on refugees and displaced persons.
Thomas-Greenfield is not the only U.S. official visiting the region. USAID Administrator Samantha Power was in the Horn of Africa recently, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to South Africa, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo starting Sunday.
Russia has intensified its own efforts to strengthen ties with the continent since launching its war on Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made an official trip to four African countries earlier this month.
Many African governments feel caught between superpowers in the conflict and have tried to remain neutral. Soon after Moscow's February 24 invasion, the U.N. General Assembly demanded Russia end its military operations. Only one African state, Eritrea, voted against the resolution, while nearly half of the 54 others either abstained or did not vote.
"I've also heard from some, that Africans don't really want to be pressured to pick a side or take a certain position," the U.S. ambassador acknowledged. "I understand that. None of us want to repeat the Cold War. And Africans have the right to decide their foreign policy positions, free of pressure and manipulation, free of threats."
She tried to dispel some Russian misinformation, particularly the Kremlin's insistence that its food and fertilizer exports are being sanctioned by the United States and other western countries.
"America's sanctions do not, let me repeat, do not apply to food and fertilizer exports, period," she said.
Thomas-Greenfield said Moscow has disrupted its own exports, imposing quotas on nitrogen and complex fertilizers and imposing duties on its grain exports. She also laid out how Russian troops have set about sabotaging and destroying Ukraine's agricultural sector by mining farmland, destroying equipment, and bombing grain silos.
"The fact is, this hurts Africa," she said. "Russia and Ukraine provide over 40% of Africa's wheat supplies."
A recent deal among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations will see Ukraine's backlogged grain exports begin to leave through the Black Sea, while Moscow will get help in lessening the concerns global insurers and shippers have about dealing with Russian exports when they face sanctions in banking and other sectors. Wheat prices have already begun to ease in the two weeks since the deal was signed in Istanbul.
Thomas-Greenfield urged Ghana and other African nations to improve their agriculture sectors so they can become more insulated from global shocks with more self-sufficiency, while also exploring the possibility of feeding global markets. Part of the aid package she announced includes $2.5 million for Ghana to improve its production and import of fertilizer for its farmers.
"Now is the time, now is the time to feed the future, to transform Ghana and other African nations into breadbaskets of your own," she urged. "The world is hungry, and your potential is unlimited. And there is not a moment to lose."