WASHINGTON: Climate change is to blame for the global food crisis but the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic have made it worse, according to Ramin Toloui, the US assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs.
Addressing the issue of global food shortages during a briefing on Wednesday, attended by Arab News, he said the US government is working with global and regional partners to tackle the effects of the crisis, especially shortages resulting from the conflict in Ukraine.
While acknowledging that the food crisis was already a concern before the war began, Toloui said the conflict has exacerbated the problem and is having a particularly significant effect on countries in the Middle East and North Africa because they import about half of their grain from Ukraine.
Through its Feed the Future Initiative, the US is working with countries around the world to increase food production and develop crops and seeds that are more resilient to climate change, he added.
“The US is committing $1 billion a year for the program,” he said, adding that Washington has also encouraged countries around the world to increase production of fertilizers, supplies of which have been disrupted by the conflict in Ukraine.
In addition, Toloui said, the US has pledged $2.5 billion in global humanitarian aid to address food insecurity, and committed $11 billion as it spearheads efforts to help US farmers and global producers cope with the effects of climate change on food production.
In the Middle East, he added, the US is working with local partners, including Saudi Arabia, to address the effects of the food crisis in the region, help alleviate shortages, in particular in countries such as Yemen that are facing other crises and challenges, and provide assistance to Syrian refugees. He also noted that Washington is working with international financial institutions to help reduce the effects of the food crisis on the poor.
All countries in the Middle East have a role to play in efforts to resolve the food crisis, and in collaborating with the international community to achieve sustainable production and supply of food, Toloui said.
On the specific issue of the current inability of Ukraine to export its grain crops to global markets because of the war with Russia, Toloui said the US government is working with Ukrainian officials to help reopen sea ports so that shipping can resume.
“The US will continue to advocate a rapid end to the conflict,” he added.