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 2:06 pm on 21st July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Crossbench 2:06 pm, 21st July 2022

He deserves it. But whether the former Chancellor of the Exchequer or the current Foreign Secretary wins the election, it is critical that from day one the Government focus not only on the cost of living crisis at home but on global insecurity in the supply of food and energy, all hugely aggravated by Mr Putin’s unjustified war in Ukraine.

We are aware of the impact of the Government’s decision, 18 months ago, to cut overseas aid. Leaving that important, broader argument to one side, I will merely highlight the dangers created by the impact of food insecurity in some of the poorest countries in the world, including in the Horn of Africa and east Africa. What is the value of talking tough and sending arms to Ukraine, if victory in that endeavour is made ever more unlikely by prolonged conflict and global instability? This was highlighted by the noble Lord who spoke before me.

We know that in times of trouble and economic stress it is always the poorest who suffer first and most, not only here at home but all over the world. Last year, Russia and Ukraine both ranked in the top three global exporters of many grains, oils and fertilisers, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Disruption to those supplies affects almost every country, including ours, by creating shortages and pushing up prices, but it is especially critical in countries that are unable to meet their own basic needs. As a result of the present situation, the UN has estimated that more than 180 million people in 41 countries could face a food crisis or aggravated levels of food insecurity.

We know from the anguished European discussions about Russian oil and gas in recent months that overreliance on some countries—perhaps any country—presents unacceptable security risks. We must look both at how we can meet our own needs and how we can diversify and broaden supplies. All this is equally true when it comes to food imports, but, just as with gas and oil, any alternatives take time, perhaps many years, to provide a realistic answer—particularly as for many of these countries their chance of self-sufficiency in food production is made an even more distant prospect as a result of climate change. These are just some of the reasons we are signed up to the United Nations sustainable development goals, which include ending hunger and poverty.

Her Majesty’s Government are committed to economic growth at home, withstanding aggression abroad and tackling migration. From what we have heard so far, those objectives at least are not likely to change with a new occupant in No. 10 Downing Street. However, the stresses created by the food insecurity that is caused by the conflict will stifle growth by stoking inflation, undermine a resolution in Ukraine and drive up migration, regardless of where in the world the Government threaten to send those arriving by unauthorised routes. Tackling food insecurity in Africa, in short, is central to achieving the Government’s objectives at home.

Action is being taken by both allies and opponents to protect their interests. As a Minister in the other place stated recently:

“The G7 is committed to providing support to those countries who need it and ensuring any sanctions against Russia have no direct impact on food security or supply chains.

The UK is working with Ukraine and international partners to help Ukraine export its grain and play its role as the breadbasket of the world. We will continue to fund humanitarian aid and economic support for those who need it most.”

As the World Bank has made clear, however, world grain prices are currently up 34% as a result of the uncertainty, so one is tempted to ask the Minister about that earlier reassurance. How is that going?

Russia is attempting to use the situation to form closer ties with Iran and drive a red wedge into Turkey’s relationship with its NATO partners. What is the Government’s assessment of how these manoeuvres are likely to play out? Do the Government feel that global leadership in this case requires proper co-ordination with allies around a thought-through strategy that can succeed just as much as it did during the financial crisis in 2008, and after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990?

In summary, we have a humanitarian duty to do what we can to alleviate suffering, and we have a direct interest in addressing the wider impacts of this dreadful war, which, like any war, has unpredictable consequences. I wish the Government well in their efforts to address the situation but would say that genuine multilateral collaboration is key to any successful strategy and there is no room for complacency.