QUESTION: Okay. So I’m going to start by asking you a little bit about the Brazil role in this global crisis of food insecurity because the Brazilian president has a position of neutrality in the war. Lula has already spoken to President Zelenskyy, President Vladimir Putin. And do you believe this puts him in a good place to perhaps mediate a talk with – and try to convince Russia to go back to the grain agreement with Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: In short, yes. I think Brazil’s voice, President Lula’s voice, is critical. And using that voice to convince the Russians to return to the agreement would be a very, very positive thing. And keep in mind: this agreement never should have been necessary in the first place. It was only necessary because Russia decided to invade Ukraine, and then, having done so, it blockaded its ports, preventing grain and wheat from getting out.
The United Nations and Türkiye then negotiated an agreement to allow the wheat and grain to get out. While that agreement was enforced before Russia pulled out of it a couple of weeks ago, 35 million tons of food products got out of Ukraine. Half of that was going to the developing world, two-thirds of the wheat going to low- and middle-income countries, many in Africa. The equivalent of 18 billion loaves of bread: that’s what Russia has now torn up.
At the same time, even countries that weren’t getting directly, or indirectly, the food products from Ukraine were benefitting from the fact that prices were lower because more food was on world markets. Since Russia has taken its action of getting out of the agreement, prices for everyone have gone up 10 or 15 percent.
So the world is saying loudly, we want Russia to come back to this agreement. And of course, Brazil’s an important influence and voice in moving Russia back in that direction. It would be a very good thing.
QUESTION: So Brazil has already increased food production. But Brazil also has facing a domestic problem with food insecurity, with more than 70 million Brazilians suffering from food insecurity.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: So taking that into consideration, what do you think – do you think Brazil could be doing more or maybe playing a more active role and deal with this global crisis?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, this is a global challenge in so many ways. We have about 250 million people around the world who are acutely food insecure. And what’s happened over the last years is a combination of things: climate change, COVID for a while, and conflict. The biggest driver of food insecurity now is conflict that one way or another is disrupting food supplies.
In the case of Ukraine, tragically, Russia is also using food as a weapon of war, as leverage to advance its objectives. Last week 91 countries came together at the United Nations and rejected in a declaration the use of food as a weapon of war. And everyone’s affected when that happens. As I said, when food’s not getting on world markets, it affects even the countries that weren’t getting that food directly because prices go up.
We have a larger challenge, which is creating greater food security in a sustainable way going forward, irrespective of conflict, of climate change. I was at the United Nations last week talking about some of the initiatives that we have. We very much welcome partnering with Brazil on those initiatives. And very quickly, one of the things that we’ve found is that the most important way to have strong production in any country is to make sure that the quality of the seeds going into the ground is strong and resistant to climate change, and the quality of the soil, the ground they’re going into, is strong.
We now have a way of mapping the quality of soil anywhere in the world and figuring out what’s good, what’s bad, and how you can improve it. So these are long-term initiatives. In the meantime, the emergency assistance is critical.