The city of Kharkov in the midst of Russian attacks. The Russian Army continued its offensive in eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas area, especially in the Donetsk region, although it also launches attacks against Kharkov, the second largest city in the country and which has become in recent weeks a A recurring target of the Russian forces, who launch almost daily bombardments against it, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Picture: Handout /Latin America News
Johannesburg – This Week, Russian lawmakers met with African diplomats in a virtual conference to thrash out mutual ways to circumvent food security in the wake of the looming global supplies that aggravated by the ongoing Ukraine conflict.
The US and EU economic sanctions against Russia have targeted food and fertiliser exports in an effort to cripple the Russian economy.
However, the Ukraine conflict has also restricted the capability of the Kyiv administration to export particularly wheat.
This has triggered fears at the UN level that the international community is on the brink of hard-hitting hunger and famine, particularly in Africa and the rest of the developing world.
The EU has recently also re-looked its growth forecast, predicting the sky-rocketing of inflation for the period 2022/23.
This week’s conference was held under the theme “Global challenges to food security”.
Oleg Ozerov, Russian ambassador-at-large and head of the secretariat of Russia-Africa Partnership, pointed out that a “consensus had formed among the international community that the current emergency came about long before the escalation of the crisis between the West and Russia over Ukraine” in February.
Ozerov said: “In the expert community there is a view that the hike in food prices is not accidental, and has the aim of creating a resource imbalance in the international division of labour with and moving toward a new stage of neo-colonial policy toward developing countries.”
The conference also heard that “The West’s anti-Russian sanctions have served to create new food security problems for African nations in particular”.
Ozerov argued that “the path toward resolving the crisis lies in removing all the obstacles created by Western countries to Russian-African cooperation in this field”.
The West has categorically blamed Russia for global security challenges.
Both the US and EU have claimed that Russia has deliberately blocked the export of Ukraine’s wheat to the outside world, a claim Moscow flatly rejects.
Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss recently lambasted the access to food as a weapon of war.
Bilateral relations between the UK and Russia during the tenure of out-going Prime Minister Boris Johnson ranks as the worst in modern history.
But the Russians have argued that the Western economic sanctions are in nature intended to restrict access to food, thereby weaponising food security.
Moscow has complained that the Western sanctions have targeted food in spite of assurances not to do so.
Key Russian banks dealing in agricultural transactions, including with African countries, have been slapped with restrictions limiting their ability to carry out their operations.
In Autumn, the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum is scheduled to take place in St Petersburg.
Top of the agenda for discussion is expected to be food security.
Carlos Sardinha, ambassador and director for international cooperation at Angola’s Ministry of External Relations, highlighted Russia’s critical role in matters of his country’s food security.
He expressed Luanda’s readiness to expand investment cooperation with the Russian agro sector and further to “forge new private and public partnerships”.
According to Sardinha, Angola is not producing enough food domestically to meet the demands of the market, “and forecasts have been made that Angola will begin to face problems in the field of cereals in September”.
Sardinha explained: “Here, of course, we want to take advantage of the long years of cooperation with the Russian Federation to cooperate in the area of food.
“Much can be done – we pin our hopes on Russian entrepreneurs who will see a strategic partner in Angola.”
Oleg Obiakov, director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO’s) Russian Liaison office, warned that the current crisis “is taking the planet away from the UN’s goals of sustainable development aimed at eliminating world hunger”.
He told delegates that ‘even before the Ukraine calamity, the Covid crisis had resulted in widespread food insecurity for people in the developing world”.
“According to statistics for 2021, the number of people suffering from hunger in the world reached 828 million, which is about 150 million more than in the pre-Covid year 2019.”
Other crisis, including military conflicts in Africa and Asia, natural disasters, economic upheaval and rampant inflation caused by excessive money-printing, are other factors that have contributed to the current crisis, the conference heard.
“Progress in this area is possible and requires concerted action by all UN member nations.”
He revealed that FAO has proposed the creation of an international fund to support the export of food, fertilisers and energy, “particularly to support the interests of the developing African nations,” Obiakov said.
For his part Louis Gouend, a representative of the Council of African Communities in Russia and President of the Cameroonian Diaspora Association in Russia, called for special attention to be paid to logistics, as well as investments for the appropriate trade infrastructure, and the possible creation of a new Russia bank specializing exclusively on Africa.
Gouend said: “Western banks have always been involved in financial settlements, and today all of these (links) have been ripped up. But I believe that this question is being solved, and one possibility, I think, would be to open a Russian bank in Africa.” He added that its creation could “significantly simplify settlements between countries.”
Finally, Cheta Nwanze, lead partner and head of research at SBM Intelligence, a Nigeria-based geopolitical affairs think-tank, focussed his remarks on the importance of Russian grain and fertilizers to Africa, pointing out that in the tropical climates which stretch across much of the continent, wheat grows either very poorly or does not grow at all.
Nwanze lamented that the Western sanctions have led to many of Africa’s own agricultural transport companies avoiding to transport grain and fertilizers from Russia for fear of reprisals in the form of secondary sanctions.
“In this light,” he opined, “alternative supply corridors are needed, for example, through Iran.”
Nwanze concluded: “The world needs a more honest economic system, one that is not dictated by only one group of countries or people.”