Africa: Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield on a Vision for Peace and Progress on Food Security

Accra — Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking Pro Vice Chancellor Asante for that kind introduction and to say how delighted I am to be here at the University of Ghana.

Professor, I actually came on this campus the first time in 1978. And as we were driving through – [Applause.], I remember thinking how beautiful it was when I came here in 1978, and it still has that beauty that it had during that visit. So, again, delighted to be here. [Applause.]

And then secondly, I want to thank the drummers. You know, as I was walking in, I will tell you that I’m a walker. And I have a drumming piece on my music, and when I’m walking to those drums, I walk at the speed of lightning. And so, as you were drumming, all I can think about was getting out there walking. So thank you for reminding me that I need to walk.

And I want to thank everyone else for joining us today to talk about peace, progress, and food security in Africa.

Sixty-five years ago, a group of esteemed Americans visited Ghana to mark its independence. In particular, two personal heroes of mine, two African American men, came to see the Union Jack come down. Both men were civil rights activists. One had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, and the other would win that prize several years later. They both identified with Ghana’s struggle for freedom, independence, dignity, and sovereignty. They believed that the world was connected – that progress in Ghana meant progress not just in Africa, but in America too.

They were Ralph Bunche, a founding father of the United Nations, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an icon of America’s civil rights movement.

I bring up their fateful visit to remind us that the connection between Ghana and America, between Africa and America, runs deep. That while some of that history is painful, other parts are joyous. America is home to so much of the African diaspora – and our people are tied together, through bonds of family and friendship, and history, and our fates are intertwined.

After all, President Nkrumah was educated in the United States at a historically black college, and W.E.B. Du Bois, one of my country’s foremost Black intellectuals and a titan of the civil rights movement, is buried here in Ghana.

I am also calling attention to the 65th anniversary of your independence, and of Ralph Bunche and Dr. King’s visit, because I am here today to talk about the connection between food, peace, and prosperity. And both Bunche and King understood that connection better than anyone.

In his Nobel Peace Prize speech, Dr. King spelled out what he was fighting for. He said, and I quote, “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Ralph Bunche made a similar point in his own Nobel speech. He argued, and I quote, “Peace is no mere matter of men fighting or not fighting.”

“Peace,” he said, “…must be translated into bread or rice, shelter, health, and education, as well as freedom and human dignity – a steadily better life.” Peace must be translated into bread or rice. I wonder if he was thinking about Jollof rice.

But right now, the world does not have peace because of persistent and pernicious conflicts, yes, but also because rice and bread are not reaching hungry people around the globe. I have worked on humanitarian causes for nearly 40 years. And today, despite all the modern tools we have at our disposal, we’re experiencing the worst – let me repeat – the worst global food security crisis I have ever seen. This is an emergency.

Here in Africa, one out of every five people are undernourished – one in five. They do not, in Dr. King’s words, have three meals for their bodies. They barely have one. Food insecurity means families are not able to provide for their children. It means children not getting the nutrition they need to succeed at school. And in the worst cases, it means famine. And famine means death.

That’s why we have to be determined to stamp out hunger. To translate peace into bread and rice. And to do that, we cannot just supply food to the hungry – although that is incredibly important. We also have to look at what is causing that hunger, what is driving food insecurity in the first place.

And right now, I see four clear causes: what I call the “E” and the three “C’s”. Energy. Climate. COVID. And Conflict.

Let’s start with energy. Energy prices have gone up in the past year – anyone who has to regularly fill up their gas tank or pay an electric bill knows this all too well. The reasons are complex and interrelated – such as supply chain issues, climate change – but the result is clear: rising energy prices. Plus, Russia’s manipulation of gas flows is now further spiking prices.

This can have a devastating effect on the food cycle. After all, energy is used to produce the chemical fertilizer that helps crops grow. Then, farmers use energy, usually diesel, to run harvesting equipment before their crops are processed in plants where more energy is needed. And then you also need energy to get that harvested food to stores, to restaurants, to markets, and from stores to your homes. So higher energy costs mean higher food costs.

Then there’s the climate crisis – a crisis Africans are deeply familiar with. I have been in Africa for most of my professional career – at posts in Kenya, the Gambia, and Nigeria, as Assistant Secretary of African Affairs, and as the first female Ambassador to Liberia. And every time I come back, I’m struck by how much the climate has transformed the environment. It has gotten hotter. This means shorter growing seasons for farmers, which means smaller annual yields. The climate crisis is also killing off animals, like cattle and fish.

Here in Ghana, many who fish for a living are seeing smaller catches as water temperatures rise. And dramatic climate events have become even more common.

I was in Uganda yesterday and I was briefed on the flash floods and landslides in the east, which left hundreds homeless.

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And right now, the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought on historical record. The World Food Program estimates that up to 20 million people may risk going hungry in that region.

Somalia, in particular, is on the brink of famine – tens of thousands of people are desperately traveling across the barren wilderness looking for food. More than 700,000 camels, goats, sheep, cattle died in just the first two months of this year from drought-related causes.

But it is children who are suffering the most – almost half of those under five in Somalia face acute malnutrition. Mothers who don’t have enough to eat stop producing the breastmilk their children need to survive and thrive. Fewer crops, fewer animals, more floods and droughts. It adds up.

Think of all the technological advancements we’ve had over the past 60 years. How much better we’ve gotten at growing and harvesting foods. And yet, according to the UN, agricultural productivity growth here in Africa has gone down – it has gone down over the past 30 years by more than a third because of climate change.

So yes, the climate crisis is a crisis of natural disasters, of floods and storms and heatwaves. But it also directly leads to a food security crisis. It makes it much harder to feed people.

And while the climate has been making it harder to source food for years, now COVID-19 gave us an immediate and additional shock to the system. COVID disrupted the labor markets that farmers across the region and the world rely on. It upended our supply chains and it made it harder to get food to market. And economic hardships and inflation, another consequence of this virus, have made it more difficult for people to afford the food that does get to market. Before COVID, 100 million people were food insecure. Three years later, just in three years, that number jumped to over 190 million people.

And then there’s the third “C,” which I believe is the most insidious source of hunger. That is hunger caused by conflict. Hunger that is caused intentionally. Hunger used as a weapon of war.

Africa offers a heartbreaking litany of examples. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, violence has led to displacement of millions of acutely malnourished children.

Fighting in Northern Ethiopia, and the drought in Ethiopia’s Somali region, have driven innocent civilians to the brink of starvation. And while we welcome the recent humanitarian truce in Northern Ethiopia, which has held for more than four months now, acute malnutrition is still a grave concern nationwide. The government has just started allowing us to get humanitarian aid to those who need it desperately, but much more needs to be done to reach vulnerable populations beyond urban areas.

In South Sudan, while searching for safety from violence, families and children have been forced to hide in swamps where they barely survive off of wild foods and contaminated river water.

And then there’s Russia’s war in Ukraine.

As the UN Representative from Kenya reminded us in the Security Council, invasions based on historic and ethnic claims have no place in our modern world. Those who know the painful legacy of colonialism firsthand can see the threat of chaos that would ensue, especially on this continent, if territorial conquest and conquering your neighbor is back on the table.

I’ve also heard from some that Africans don’t really want to be pressured to pick a side or take a certain position. I understand that. None of us want to repeat the Cold War. And Africans have the right to decide their foreign policy positions, free of pressure and manipulation, free of threats. But let me be clear: I’m not here to tell you or any Africans what to think.

But I do want to present the facts. Earlier, I told you that over 190 million people were food insecure after COVID. Well since Russia’s unprovoked war, full-scale invasion into Ukraine, we estimate that number could rise to 230 million. That would mean that more than 40 million people will have become food insecure since President Putin chose to invade his neighbor and steal their land. That’s more people than the entire population of Ghana.

Why? Because Russia has systematically captured some of Ukraine’s most productive farmland. They have spoiled fields with mines and bombs, they have stolen and destroyed vital agricultural equipment and infrastructure. They have even bombed grain silos and are selling grain that we believe was stolen from Ukraine’s stockpiles.

The fact is, this hurts Africa. Russia and Ukraine provide over 40 percent of Africa’s wheat supplies. Russia’s blockage of the Black Sea kept over 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain from global markets and threatened food security across the Middle East and Africa. Food prices worldwide are 23 percent higher than a year ago. But they hit the hardest in sub-Saharan Africa, where food consumes 40 percent of household budgets.

Regardless of how you feel about Russia, we all have a powerful common interest in mitigating the impact of the war on Ukraine on food security. To that end, we have supported the UN’s efforts to broker a deal so Ukraine could start shipping its agricultural commodities again out from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. We welcomed the departure of the vessels carrying grain from Black Sea ports this week. And we urge Russia to uphold its commitments to allow Ukraine’s farmers to once again supply the world with grain. In the meantime, we are also working with Ukraine and the EU to facilitate agricultural exports through all available road, rail, and maritime routes.

I’ve heard many African leaders say they want diplomacy to end the war, and we could not agree more. Moscow and Kyiv will need to find ways to live together in peace. It’s always better to solve disagreements at the negotiating table and not on the battlefield. Unfortunately, we’ve seen no indication that Russia is prepared to accept a diplomatic solution. Nevertheless, we owe it to the people of Ukraine, who are suffering so much, to support all efforts to end the war through good-faith dialogue and negotiations on terms the Ukrainians themselves decide.

Now I know some folks have come here and told you that Western sanctions are to blame for rising food prices. And again, I’m not telling you what to think, but I do want to provide you with the facts. The fact is that our sanctions are targeted at Putin and his supporters, not agriculture and food, which are specifically carved out of the sanctions.

Let me say that again since this is such a regular piece of disinformation: America’s sanctions do not, let me repeat, do not apply to food and fertilizer exports. Period.

We’ve taken extra steps to issue extensive public guidance to make sure that companies and financial institutions understand that food and fertilizer are not the target of our sanctions. We’ve even created a sanctions “help desk” to clear up any and all misunderstandings on food security issues, and we’re happy to engage with anyone who has questions.

But Russia itself is taking steps that limit exports to the world. For example, Moscow has imposed export quotas on nitrogen and complex fertilizers that will be in place until at least the end of the year. A lack of fertilizer today bakes in a food security crisis for tomorrow. Russia also imposed extra duties on its own farmers’ grain exports, even though Russia had a bumper crop this year.

All of this to say: Russia’s war in Ukraine only makes an already horrific food crisis even more dire.

And all of these problems – energy, climate, COVID, and conflict – combine into a complex cocktail that has led to the worst hunger crisis of our lifetimes. This kind of unprecedented global crisis calls for an unprecedented global response.

That’s why I have consistently brought this issue to the UN Security Council. The world needs to see how food insecurity increases the risk of conflict. And the Security Council needs to do a better job of stopping food from being used as a weapon of war.

For our part, in May, during the United States Presidency of the Security Council, Secretary Blinken joined me in New York, and we hosted a series of Days of Action on Food Security. We brought together partners from around the world to craft a Roadmap for Global Food Security. The Roadmap calls for UN Member States to provide additional humanitarian funding and in-kind donations of food from national stockpiles to keep food and agricultural markets open, to increase fertilizer production, to support sustainable food systems, and to monitor and share data on global food market developments.

Over a hundred countries have now signed on to a common picture of this crisis and a common agenda for addressing it. And since May, we have been working together with the UN, the G7, and others to encourage partnerships on addressing this issue with more donors around the world. In fact, President Biden secured a commitment for $4.5 billion in funding for food security at the G7 Summit. And to demonstrate just how much we care about this issue, the United States commitment was more than half of this total: $2.76 billion.

When others travel to Africa, I think it’s worth asking them how much they’re contributing to these efforts, because this needs to be a multilateral, global effort. As we face down the immediate threat and look to get as much food and humanitarian supplies to as many hungry and desperate people as possible, we also have to take on the root causes of energy, climate, and COVID, and conflict. Each of these root causes, and how we are working together to tackle them, could easily be their own speech, their own conversation.

But amidst all of these difficult, generational challenges, there actually are opportunities. The food security crisis can be a clarion call both for Ghana and for Africa. The crisis can galvanize the resources, the infrastructure, the connections needed to make this country and this continent its own breadbasket. To provide your own food to your people and, perhaps, to the rest of the world. Now I know this is hard to imagine in the middle of a food security crisis. But I also know it’s possible, and I know you know it’s possible.

Two decades after Ralph Bunche and Dr. King came to Ghana, another very important African-American arrived here: me. [Applause.]

It was 1978 – I was telling you about that in the beginning and I was a student when I came here in 1978 – and it was my first time ever leaving the United States. And I had come to Africa to see the continent my ancestors came from. And I felt an immediate connection, and I knew then and there that I wanted to spend my career working and living in Africa. And I traveled from country to country by bush taxi. And in Ghana, I remember being struck by your natural beauty. Bright, green, lush. Miles of sandy beaches. I also learned about your natural resources. An emerging cacao industry. Land with plenty of rainfall and good soil and crops.

But in other ways, Ghana was completely a different country. Most of you were not around in 1978, there are a few of us who are that age. You were under a military dictatorship. Your economy was in shambles. You could barely find food in the markets. And in the bush taxi that I traveled in, people were fleeing to Nigeria in hopes of finding work.

I’ve traveled to Ghana often since then. I was here to observe the 2016 general elections and your president’s inauguration in 2017. I have watched this country’s rapid and radical transformation toward democracy, toward stability, toward food security, toward peace. Ghana is evolving and still has much more progress to make.

But the Ghana of today is an entirely new country from the Ghana I experienced in 1978. Despite some malnutrition challenges in part of the north, Ghana is now a leader on this continent for food security and food systems. You have a strong base to build on. But in my mind, Ghana is nowhere near its peak. Nor is Africa more broadly. Ghana can supply even more local foods. It can become an agribusiness hub. It can become a breadbasket for the world. [Applause.] And of course, Ghana is not the only country with that potential here in Africa. Nigeria has huge swaths of arable land. So does the Democratic Republic of Congo. And the list goes on and on.

My point is this: for too long, the wealthy and powerful have extracted Africa’s natural resources for their own gain. And it continues today through bad deals and debt traps.

We want to see an Africa that provides for Africa, with self-sustaining food supplies that translates peace into sugar bread, chapatis, injera, and Jollof rice that you can share with the globe. Your potential is simply extraordinary.

Of course, reaching that world is still going to take a lot of hard work. It will take resources. It will take perseverance, commitment, and good governance. It will mean calling on the large and prosperous African diaspora to help you make progress. Efforts like the 2019 Year of Return are a great way to unlock the potential of that diaspora, which has billions of dollars and vast troves of priceless experience to offer. It will mean partnering with governments, with NGOs, and with agribusiness – a topic I know we’ll be discussing at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December. It will mean taking on the complex network of challenges that cause food insecurity to begin in the first place. But I believe it can lead to peace and prosperity for all of us.

For our part, the United States is committed to this work. It is the foundation of Feed the Future, our global hunger and food security initiative, which President Biden dramatically expanded this summer to include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia – joining twelve other target countries, including Ghana.

But more funding is needed to address food security and to address crises that compound food security, like the refugees and internally displaced people who are forced from their homes and put a strain on the food systems wherever they find shelter.

And that’s why, today, I’m proud to announce nearly $150 million in new, additional humanitarian funding and development assistance, pending Congressional notification, for Africa. [Applause.] That includes the 20 million I announced yesterday in Uganda, which will go toward expanding investments in fertilizer, grains, and other crops – with the goal of increasing resilience to future shocks in Uganda. Yesterday I visited a grain milling factory in Uganda that we are helping to support, and I saw just how critical it is to keep these factories running.

Today the funds I’m announcing also include additional funding for Ghana that focuses on developing and marketing innovative fertilizer products, and offer support to importers and manufacturers, including private sector partners, to bring more fertilizer into this country.

Even before this additional aid, here in Ghana we’ve been assisting more than 638,000 smallholder farmers to adapt to price spikes by helping them use local fertilizer sources. We’re also promoting the use of improved seeds that need less fertilizer and encouraging private sector and agribusiness partnerships that will bring the resources, the technology, and the know-how to build up a farming infrastructure.

Finally, we know that conflicts can weaponize hunger and force people to leave their homes. That leads to mass displacement, which leads to internally displaced people and refugees, which puts strains on the food systems of surrounding countries. So, the funding I’m announcing today includes more than $127 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Africa to provide for lifesaving support to refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons, and persecuted people across Africa. And let me just say that this brings us to about $6.6 billion of humanitarian assistance to Africa since the beginning of this fiscal year.

And I want to thank Ghana and all African countries who have opened their doors and opened their borders to those who seek refuge, who are seeking protection from conflict.

The humanitarian funds will also be used to address human impacts felt by refugees and those displaced here in Africa and the communities which host them. It will help those affected by crises in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and other new and protracted displacement situations. It will support humanitarian partners who make life better for the seven million refugees and 25 million internally displaced people in Africa. And it will go toward building a peace that translates to bread and rice for all who are hungry.