AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Good morning, everyone.  Let me thank you, every one of you, for joining us today to open up a dialogue about a wide range of shared issues, particularly on climate, conflict, prosperity, and on food security.  We also want to talk to you about how we can strengthen our partnership here at the UN.

I recently had a series of meetings that I call listening tours with African ambassadors here at the UN, and in those meetings, I heard loud and clear that people in Africa are hurting from food and fuel price surges that have been exacerbated by Russia’s war on Ukraine.  As you know, the United States is making food security a core focus of our presidency of the Security Council for the second year in a row, and right now we’re hosting a series of Days of Action to bring this crisis to the forefront.

When I first raised this issue in the Security Council in March of 2021, we discussed how COVID, climate, conflict, and strained global supply chains were driving millions more people closer to hunger and malnutrition.  In recent months, the war in Ukraine, a major supplier of wheat and other agricultural commodities, has further disrupted global food supplies.  And let me just note that we have a very strong statement, a roadmap for action, that we encourage you all to sign as a concrete outcome of the food security ministerial later today.

This meeting is an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity for us to hear directly from you at the highest levels about this issue and so much more.  We want to know what you are seeing and experiencing on the ground, and how we can find ways to work together on a path forward.

To that end, I now have the great privilege of introducing the United States Secretary of State, Secretary Blinken.  I’m so grateful he took the time out of his busy schedule to bring us together here today, and I know he’s looking forward to hearing from all of you what you all have to say.  Secretary Blinken, the floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Linda, thank you very, very much, both for the words of introduction but especially for everything you’re doing every single day here at the United Nations to represent the United States so effectively, including with so many of our partners around the table today.  And I want to extend the same thanks to our Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Molly Phee, for her constant leadership and engagement with the countries of Africa, with the people of Africa, with the institutions of Africa.

And I just want to pick up at the – on something, Linda, you just said, which is I really am here, we are here today to listen, to hear from you, because we want to know how you are experiencing this acute challenge of food insecurity, and especially ideas for how we can work together to address it.  So, I’m grateful to all of you for joining us today, those who will come in shortly.  It means a great deal to have the opportunity to spend some time in person.  Looking forward to the ministerial very soon.

Any conversation about food security has to focus on what’s happening across Africa.  Your countries are bearing some of the heaviest burdens.  It’s something we see, we recognize.  No one knows better than you what solutions would help, and which might fall short.  There are many reasons for the current food crisis.  Linda alluded to some of them, including, of course, the economic ramifications of COVID-19, the accelerated climate crisis which all of us are feeling acutely and which people across Africa have been experiencing firsthand for a long time.  Right now, the countries in the Horn of Africa are experiencing a brutal fourth consecutive drought season with, we know, devastating consequences.

And, as Linda said, Russia’s war in Ukraine has also had a major effect.  We had a preexisting condition that’s been significantly exacerbated by this aggression, and an additional 40 million people are believed as a result to be at risk of food insecurity.  We’ve seen global food shortages and rising prices for food, fertilizer, for fuel.  And while people worldwide are now dealing with these shortages and dealing with the high prices, people across Africa, we know, have been hit particularly hard.  There was a recent study by our U.S. Agency for International Development that found that 32 of the 39 countries at greatest risk from this acute food crisis are in Africa.

I want to emphasize something because it really is important, and I know it firsthand – I can attest to this firsthand.  The United States held hundreds of engagements to try to prevent this senseless war against Ukraine.  We reached out repeatedly to our Russian partners, to NATO, the African Union, the European Union, other allies and partners.  President Putin invaded anyway.  The sanctions that dozens of countries have imposed on Russia after the invasion included very clear carveouts for food, for fertilizer, for seeds.  But the Kremlin has chosen to deliberately hold back these exports from Ukraine.  There’s an abundance of grain, of wheat that was produced this year in Ukraine; it is just sitting there because it cannot get out of the country.  Why can’t it get out of the country?  Because Russia is blockading the ports from which it would leave and targeting, indeed, those ports, targeting farms and the lands for cultivation.  Ukrainian farmers in many cases have been forced into a choice of either fighting for the freedom of their country or fleeing.

All of this together has had a major impact.  And because Ukraine is one of the world’s top exporters of key crops, including corn, as well as wheat, seeds for cooking oil, the result that we’re seeing is that people around the world are suffering the consequences of choices that President Putin has made, and especially, again, people across Africa.  So, that’s why it’s critical that we get together today so that we can hear directly from you what your citizens are actually dealing with and how we can help.  For example, if there is specific assistance that countries need to ensure that sanctions don’t prevent the flow of food or fertilizer to you, we want to know. And we’re ready to act fast to help.

When I had the opportunity to visit Kenya and Nigeria and Senegal in November, I talked about how the United States sees the countries of Africa as partners in solving the challenges that we face.  Food security is one of the most urgent of those challenges, and simply put, we want to partner with you on a coordinated response.

So, let me just very briefly summarize what we’ve committed to do to try to end the near-term crisis as well as focus on the long term, and then we’re extremely anxious to hear from each of you.

First, we’re addressing the humanitarian needs caused by the war of aggression against Ukraine.  Just since February, the United States has pledged more than $2.3 billion of food assistance.  And pending final approval from our Congress, we’ll provide more than 5 billion in additional aid, including more than $760 million specifically for global food security.  Plus, today we’re announcing an additional $215 million for emergency food assistance in Algeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya, among other countries.

Second, we are working to alleviate what is also a global fertilizer shortage, including by boosting our domestic production.  President Biden committed an additional $250 million just a week ago for a total of $500 million invested in American fertilizer production this year.

Finally, we’re focused on building agricultural resilience over the long term.  And here I really want to commend the great work of the African Development Bank with its $1 billion plan to help 40 million African farmers use climate-resilient technologies and increase crop yields.  Likewise, we have our Feed the Future initiative that’s focused for 15 years on creating long-term improvements to food security, including with partners across Africa.  We’re growing Feed the Future with another $5 billion over the next three years and expanding it to new countries, including, indeed, primarily in Africa.

These investments show that global food security is a priority for the United States, and we want to do all that we can to coordinate and cooperate with our partners to help countries with the most urgent needs get the relief that they need fast while investing in their own food production.

Most important, we know that we do not have all the answers, and we certainly are not in the position of dictating solutions from afar.  We’re eager to hear, again, what we can do, what we can do better, how we can do it more effectively, understand how the crisis is really affecting your countries, and especially, again, get your ideas for how to solve it and how we can help.

So, with that said, I’m very, very grateful for everyone’s participation today, and let’s open it up for conversation.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future