Food Insecurity in Developing Countries due to Blockade of Ukrainian Ports - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:37 pm on 21st July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Risby Lord Risby Conservative 1:37 pm, 21st July 2022

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. I particularly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham on his most informative and, frankly, moving speech. We all much look forward to his future contributions in your Lordships’ House.

I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate, which is so timely as it underlines the brutality of Russia in threatening energy supplies to Europe and heading towards not only malnutrition but actual starvation of vulnerable people. I applaud the noble Lord, who always so admirably brings to the attention of your Lordships’ House human suffering and injustice, wherever they exist.

Last night, the think tank that I chair, the Council on Geostrategy, published a report titled Deepening British-Ukrainian Relations in a More Competitive Era. The foreword was signed by the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and the United Kingdom. We have a relationship with Ukraine which began to take off most particularly in 2005 and has grown enormously since then. As I know, as a long-standing chairman of the British Ukrainian Society, there is huge personal admiration currently for our outgoing Prime Minister and his role in supporting Ukraine. But as I said last night in reassurance, and as I know is 100% supported by your Lordships, the freedom and security of Ukraine will, for us, be absolutely central irrespective of who the Prime Minister here is; of that, there is no doubt whatever.

We have heard the statistics. In peacetime 10% of global wheat exports come from Ukraine, 12% of maize and 37% of sunflower oil. There have been discussions under the United Nations umbrella, and particularly with the positive involvement of Turkey, to get food shipments out of Odessa, heading towards those parts of the Middle East and Africa which most particularly need wheat. It is truly shocking that Russia is, in practice, blocking real progress in this regard. Hints of positive movement have not been brought to fruition.

While huge efforts have been made to take this precious cargo to Romania, Moldova and Poland, there are severe logistical limitations. The port of Odessa has always been and remains the exit port for food products from Ukraine. Historically, Ukraine has been the breadbasket of not only the old Soviet empire but much of Europe. The silos are now filled and only a small fraction can be substantially moved out of the country by road or rail. Shocking too is that the violence meted out to Ukrainians and the wanton destruction we witness each day have been aggravated by Russians taking wheat supplies for themselves.

This brings me to the substance of our debate. David Beasley, director of the UN World Food Programme, bluntly warned that

“50 million people in 45 countries are now just one step from famine.”

This is true nowhere more so than in east Africa and the Horn of Africa. As has so frequently been highlighted, climate change and often poor agricultural activity have been added to by four years in a row of failed rainy seasons and the after-effects of the Covid pandemic. There is real violence and instability, particularly in Ethiopia and Eritrea; in the latter case, all wheat imports are from Russia and Ukraine. In common with so many countries, price shocks are playing their part in social dislocation and instability. The IMF has made it clear that potential food price increases will disproportionately affect Africa.

But I return to Ukraine because, even before the current invasion, there was massive displacement of millions of people in Ukraine after the de facto occupation of the eastern part of the country. More latterly, millions of people fleeing the country are leaving behind a colossal bill to rebuild it, in due course. This is having a devastating impact on the livelihood of farmers, many of whom have been subject to violence and attack.

I also bring your Lordships’ attention to the situation in Egypt, which has seen an explosion of its population. Egyptians consume around 37% of their calories from wheat and 25% of their imports are from Ukraine. In 2010, food supplies and distribution problems undoubtedly provided a backdrop for extensive protest. There has been rioting in Iraq and there is real concern in Egypt that there could be violent social instability. Your Lordships know all too well that problems and protests in Egypt often spread elsewhere in the region. The Minister is well aware of this, so I know that many of your Lordships will be anxious to hear about any additional support, either singly or collectively, to the most vulnerable areas we are talking about.

We have been made very aware of migratory flows in recent years. In Europe, we are particularly conscious of this but, if you examine the statistics, they reveal a massive increase in migratory flows on the continent of Africa. For example, between 2015 and 2019 the number of migrants from Burundi living in Uganda increased by 69%, and migrants from Ethiopia living in Somalia increased by 42%. Many migrants in Djibouti and Rwanda have escaped from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The number of Eritreans who managed to get to Europe virtually doubled in the same period, but the food crisis, as a result of the savage and unprovoked attack on Ukraine by Russia, will undoubtedly hugely increase migratory flows, most particularly within Africa but inevitably to Europe as well.

I once again express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is a terrible irony, as has already been expressed, that Stalin in effect starved millions of Ukrainians for not complying with his takeover of their lands—the Holodomor. It is a tragic irony that modern-day Russia may yet again cause the death of huge numbers of people who are totally removed from the conflict that the Russians have initiated, without the slightest justification.