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Picture: 123RF/OTICKI
Picture: 123RF/OTICKI

The EU aims to address rising wheat and fertiliser prices and expected shortages in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East with “food diplomacy” to counter Russia’s narrative on the effects of its Ukraine invasion, EU diplomats and officials say.    

Food insecurity was causing “resentment” in vulnerable countries in these regions, while Moscow was portraying the crisis as a consequence of Western sanctions on Russia, one EU diplomat said.

This posed a potential threat to EU influence, which it plans to tackle with “food diplomacy and a battle of narratives”, said the diplomat.

President Vladimir Putin said last week that the West’s sanctions against Russia had fomented a global food crisis and spiralling energy prices.

EU neighbours, particularly Egypt and Lebanon, are highly dependent on wheat and fertilisers from Ukraine and Russia. They face a price spike after a drop in supplies since the start of Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“We cannot take the risk of losing the region,” said a second European diplomat.

The 27-member bloc also wants to boost international efforts to mitigate the effect of shortages and was, together with the UN World Food Programme, due to announce new initiatives on Tuesday.

EU officials say French diplomats have considered the setting up of a global food-distribution mechanism for poorer nations, while Hungary has suggested boosting the EU’s agricultural output by altering its climate goals.

Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN  was considering a food import financing facility, said EU officials.

However, the EU’s foreign affairs service said co-operation with FAO director-general Qu Dongyu over global food insecurity was “challenging”, an EU document seen by Reuters showed, and the EU was pushing the FAO to act quickly.

The FAO had no immediate comment on a food financing facility or its director’s relations with the EU.

In a list of recommendations on the FAO’s website Qu says: “Countries dependent on food imports from Russia and Ukraine should look for alternative suppliers to absorb the shock.”

Brussels considers Russia’s communication campaigns on the food crisis as disinformation, and the EU is not restricting food trade with Russia, said the first diplomat.

EU sanctions on Russian exports have usually exempted food.

Russia is also making it hard for Ukraine to ship agricultural products by attacking ports and bombing wheat storage, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said on Monday on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers.

Russia, which has restricted wheat exports, recently bombed several fuel storage facilities in Ukraine.

And while wheat storage facilities are full, Ukraine cannot export because of a shortage of fuel, said EU officials.

The EU is trying to facilitate food exports via Poland and is supporting the delivery of fuel to Ukrainian farmers to ease the situation, said the officials.

The EU is also providing financial support to the most vulnerable nations, last week announcing €225m in aid to North Africa and the Middle East.

Nearly half of this will go to Egypt, the largest country in the region, while Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority are to receive emergency funds of €15m-€25m each.

Another €300m in agriculture support is to be provided to Western Balkan countries, as part of regular EU funding to the region, with Serbia considered of concern because of intensive Russian communications there, said EU officials.

Reuters

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