QUESTION: Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, thank you so much for talking with us here on Al Jazeera.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: My first question is about two key and related priorities for the U.S., improving long-term food security in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as restarting the Black Sea Grain Initiative. There’s this growing perception that I think is not correct that restarting the BSGI will immediately help African countries deal with their food security issues. Can you help me understand why there’s this confusion? Isn’t the BSGI more about making certain that global food prices aren’t skyrocketing and helping to sustain Ukraine’s economy in the midst of a war?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, of course, the effect on food prices is good for everyone, no matter where you are, even if you’re not a direct recipient of the grain, of the wheat that’s getting out of Ukraine or that was getting out of Ukraine under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The fact that it was helping to keep prices low is good for everyone. In fact, since Russia tore up the agreement, we’ve seen prices go up between 10 and 15 percent and that hurts everyone, including throughout Africa.
But take a step back just for a second: this initiative never should have been necessary in the first place. It was only necessary because Russia invaded Ukraine, and then having done that, blockaded its ports, including Odesa where most of the grain, most of the wheat was getting out. The agreement reached by the United Nations, by Türkiye, actually allowed the grain to start flowing again. The result was that more than half of it was going to developing countries. Two-thirds of the wheat was going to developing countries, including many in Africa. It was the equivalent of 18 billion loaves of bread. Now, that’s been taken off the market because Russia decided to tear up the agreement. And since then, as I said, prices have gone up for everyone, and those countries that were getting grain, and wheat in particular, from Ukraine aren’t getting it. And that’s bad for everyone.
QUESTION: The vision plan that you outlined at the UN Security Council last week is a long-term plan to help —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: — African countries develop their agriculturalized sector. What can the U.S. and the West do right now to help countries that, at the best of times, have trouble providing enough food for their citizens?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, two things. First, the most immediate thing anyone could do would be to have Vladimir Putin get back into the Black Sea Grain Initiative. That would immediately have an impact on prices and it would get more food product on the market, including for developing countries in Africa. But having said that, when I was at the United Nations last week, I also announced an additional $350 million in food assistance to go directly to 11 African countries as well as to Haiti. Since the Russian aggression against Ukraine – about a year and a half ago – we, the United States, have provided $14 and a half billion to strengthen the food security for countries around the world, but especially in Africa. We’ve done an emergency response, which I know is critical, that we’re – by the way, we’re the largest donor by far to the World Food Program. We provide 50 percent of its budget. By comparison, Russia provides less than 1 percent of its budget.
But we’re focused on two things: we’re focused on doing everything we can to get countries the emergency assistance they need, but also, as you said, to work at the same time on helping countries build their own sustainable productive capacity so that they’re not victims again and again of everything from climate change to COVID to now conflict, all of which have disrupted the production of food and the supply of food. So we have major initiatives – some of which I talked about at the United Nations – to help countries to do that. It’s heavily focused on Africa, but I believe the capacity is extraordinary. The potential is extraordinary. The sustained focus that we’re bringing, I think, will bring results. But in the meantime, emergency assistance for countries that are being buffeted by conflict is hugely important.
Final thing is this: At the UN last week, 91 countries signed on to a declaration saying that food should not be used as a weapon of war, as Russia is now doing in Ukraine.
QUESTION: And speaking of crisis, very quickly, sir, the situation in Niger. Would the U.S. say this is now a coup?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So whatever you call it, what we’ve seen is the disruption of the constitutional order in Niger. And we, like many countries throughout Africa – and notably ECOWAS, which brings together many countries in West Africa – is determined that the constitutional order be re-established. That’s what everyone is focused on right now.
So from our perspective, for the United States, I’ve been in close contact with President Bazoum, with many leaders throughout Africa, and everyone is working towards the same objective: the restoration of the constitutional order.
QUESTION: All right. We’ll leave it there. Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State – thank you so much for joining us on Al Jazeera.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Thanks for having me.