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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Wins Promise of Wheat for Poor

The head of the World Food Program got what he came to Moscow for -- a promise from the government to become an official donor of the United Nations agency that supplies food to more than 70 million people around the globe.

After meeting with WFP executive director James Morris on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said Russia is prepared to supply the WFP with 30,000 tons of food-grade wheat, the government web site announced.

"This is a very good news," Morris said Thursday morning in an interview at the Metropol Hotel. "The Russian Federation is the most important country in the world that is not currently a donor to the WFP. ... so this is a great step forward for the WFP, which is the place where the world comes together to provide help and support to very hungry and poor people all around the world."

Morris said he also had "a good visit" with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and a number of parliamentary deputies.

"Their response was that the Russian Federation was committed to becoming a donor to the World Food Program, and they were especially interested in our work in places like North Korea, Afghanistan, South Africa," he said.

The government already is familiar with the World Food Program's work in the North Caucasus. Since the current Chechnya conflict began in October 1999, more than $40 million in supplies has been funneled into the region by the WFP, according to UN figures.

Details have not yet been worked out for Russia's new cooperation with the WFP; in the past it served only as a contractor for the program, providing its services. Morris said the total volume of Russia's donations to the WFP is not yet clear, but he expressed the hope that Russia would become a permanent donor and the size of its commitment would grow.

Thirty-six countries have donated to the WFP this year, including Cuba, Hungary and Slovakia. The United States was the biggest single donor, with a contribution of $808 million as of the beginning of October.

The biggest donations -- more than 60 percent of the total WFP budget of $1.9 billion last year -- come from the United States, while most of the rest are sponsored by Canada, the European Union and Japan.

Russia's donation of 30,000 tons of wheat is worth $2.1 million, based on a minimum European price of $70 per ton, said Lyudmila Pigina, grain analyst for OGO, a major national grain trader.

Current prices in Russia, however, have dropped to almost $40 per ton because of the good harvest. Russia harvested 45.7 tons of wheat, 2.2 million tons more than last year, and planned to export about 8 million tons, according to Agriculture Ministry figures.

"This amount -- 30,000 tons -- does not mean anything for Russia," Pigina said. "It will not affect prices here, and I don't think the donation was made for this purpose. But the fact that Russia is becoming a member of this very significant program is a very important political move."

WFP donations that reach the North Caucasus are partly sponsored by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Program, or ECHO, said Philippe Royan, head of ECHO's Moscow office.

Last year, Russia received more than $24 million, which allowed it to regularly supply food for more than 310,000 people in Chechnya and Ingushetia, including 47,000 schoolchildren aged 6 to 12 in 159 schools, the UN said.

In addition to providing food packages, the WFP runs the "food for work" and "food for assets creation" programs.

In the first one, 15,000 people are employed in social works projects: sweeping streets, repairing schools, disposing of rubble and planting trees. In return, they get food worth about 600 rubles per month, including flour, sugar, oil and salt. The second program provides refugees who return from Ingushetia with roofing and other construction materials to repair their homes and also with food for several months for the whole family.

But while WFP spending in the North Caucasus is stable, the global budget has been reduced this year to $1.7 billion, while hunger has been exacerbated in many parts of the world. In North Korea, the WFP is feeding 6.5 million people -- a third of the population. In Afghanistan -- 10 million people.

Every day, 24,000 people die of hunger in the world, the WFP web site says.

"The most serious humanitarian crisis in the world today is the one in six countries in southern Africa -- Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesoto and Swaziland, where 14.5 million people are at risk of starvation. It is a very serious complication of a drought for several years, huge devastation of HIV/AIDS and issues of governance," said Morris, who is also a special envoy in southern Africa for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Our mission now is to generate resources to feed these people, especially women and children. There are 4.5 million orphans, and 60 percent of them have a mom and dad who died because of HIV/AIDS. We saw a grandmother taking care of 20 children there.

"That is why the commitment of Russia is so important to us," Morris said.