Food Crisis and Sanctions
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On June 9, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on the global food crisis. The discussion moderator Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for the Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, asked the participants whether the food crisis has already begun in the world or whether it is still only a threat.

Oleg Kobyakov, Director of the FAO Moscow Office, noted that even before the pandemic, every twelfth person in the world was constantly hungry, and due to the pandemic, an additional 120 million people began to experience this kind of hunger. “There is a food crisis, it did not start yesterday,” he stressed, adding that in the past six years the number of hungry people has been constantly growing, and now this situation is further exacerbated by the armed conflict in Ukraine. The main causes of famine throughout human history, according to Kobyakov, have been wars, natural disasters, and economic shocks disrupting supply chains. “Unfortunately, the goal of ending hunger by 2030 remains elusive,” acknowledged the FAO representative.

H. E. Mohamed Yongawo, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the Russian Federation, sees two causes of hunger - natural and man-made. The latter include not only armed conflicts, but also, in particular, problems of transport and infrastructure, which have increased in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. He also named urbanisation, which affects all regions of the world, including Africa, and causes a shortage of agriculture workers, as one of the factors contributing to rising prices. As another important problem, the diplomat pointed to the burden of debt, which forces African countries to spend funds on servicing debts to international financial structures instead of development programmes.

According to Nourhan ElSheikh, professor of political science at Cairo University, the global crisis that has now gripped the planet is not limited to the problem of hunger and affects all countries, including Western ones. She considers the United States and its partners primarily responsible for this situation, which is destroying global supply chains. “They aimed sanctions at Russia, but they hit themselves and the whole world,” ElSheikh said, adding that Russia is not particularly affected by sanctions, but Africa, Asia and Latin America are suffering. The whole world must unite and achieve the lifting of sanctions, she concluded.

Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, described the impact of anti-Russian sanctions on food security. According to him, at first glance, the sanctions imposed by Western countries did not affect grain, fertiliser or agricultural products so much. There are no direct bans on the import of Russian grain yet. There are wide exceptions to EU restrictions on the purchase of Russian fertilisers. Deals related to grain and fertiliser are exempt from US financial sanctions. It would seem that the sanctions affect the sector tangentially, but there is a real problem. Many individuals associated with agricultural assets have been sanctioned. In addition, sanctions affect logistics and financial transactions. And finally, the over-compliance factor plays an important role - the excessive enforcement of sanctions legislation. We should not forget about informal restrictions - actual boycotts, particularly in the field of cargo transportation insurance.

Eduard Zernin, Chairman of the Board of the Union of Grain Exporters, also spoke about the invisible barriers that are breaking supply chains in the food sector. In particular, despite all the denials "from the big stands", the overseas transportation of Russian grain is difficult. Many popular jurisdictions simply prohibit ships flying their flag from entering Russian ports, and this prevents many who need Russian grain from getting it. Increasing the number of Russian ships will help solve this problem, but it will take time. Another important factor is the financial limitations. According to Zernin, credit lines for the purchase of Russian grain have been frozen in many banks.