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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Counting on Russia to Double Food Aid

VedomostiDe Mistura suggested that Russia boost its donation to the World Food Program in 2010 to 100,000 tons of grain.
The United Nations expects Russia to double its contribution to global food security in the near future, making use of a bumper crop to help offset drought-hit harvests in other parts of the world, a UN official said.

“Russia today occupies 20th place in donations to the World Food Program, and we hope it will enter the top 10 in the nearest future,” Staffan de Mistura, the program’s deputy director, told The Moscow Times.

De Mistura met deputy heads of the Foreign and Agriculture ministries last week, as well as senior advisers to the president. He said “certain agreements” had been reached, but declined to elaborate.

A high-ranking Russian source close to the negotiations told The Moscow Times that the country’s participation in the program was expected to increase soon.

“We can confirm a highly productive visit by Staffan de Mistura last week to Moscow, and we expect that [World Food Program executive director] Josette Sheeran will visit Moscow at the beginning of next year. Her visit is currently being prepared,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “Russia’s cooperation with the UN World Food Program is quite broad and is not limited to donations.”

Moscow gave $25 million to the WFP in 2009. The top three donors were the United States ($1.7 billion), the European Union ($304 million) and Spain ($205 million). Australia rounded out this year’s top ten, with $79.5 million.

The Russian source would not comment on the size of a possible increase in donations but indicated that Moscow was interested in how the aid would be distributed.

“It is crucially important to Russia that the WFP operates in countries that are our friends and allies, such as Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan,” the source said. “We welcome this not only politically, but also as donors to the WFP.”

Among post-Soviet countries, the World Food Program already works in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Tajikistan, according to its web site. It also operates in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus.

De Mistura said the global recession and draught caused by climate change have made things significantly worse in 2009.

“This year, 113 million new people joined the family of the food insecure because of the global recession’s impact and draught caused by climate change,” he said. “But Russia has had extremely good crops this year and now has around 9.5 million metric tons of grain in reserves.”

There are about 1.1 billion people who are food insecure, or in danger of going hungry, up from about 885 million 15 years ago, de Mistura said.

“For instance, in Ethiopia we need 600,000 tons just to be able to feed the country’s most vulnerable people,” he said. “But it’s not only Africa, we need grain for Armenia, for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, too. So there are also countries which are not far away from Russia that are in need of increasing our capacity to assist them.”

He said the WFP and Russia had agreed to develop over the next two months a “concrete plan of increased engagement” to help.

The Agriculture Ministry said in an e-mailed response to questions that de Mistura met with Deputy Minister Sergei Korolyov, who proposed that Russia and the WFP develop a joint pilot project on nutrition in schools.

De Mistura suggested that Russia increase its donation to the program in 2010 to 100,000 tons of grain, the statement said, without giving a figure for this year. The Agriculture Ministry said the matter required approval within the government and that talks were being held with the Finance, Foreign and Emergency Situations ministries.

The Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin had no immediate comment.

Total wheat production in the drought-affected regions of the Middle East and Central Asia has declined by 22 percent, or nearly 13 million metric tons, in the 2008-09 season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

World wheat production will total 662 million metric tons, the International Grains Council said in August. Russia’s full-year grain production will reach 93 million metric tons, including 58 million tons of wheat, up from earlier estimates of 85 million to 86 million metric tons of grain, Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik said last month.

Last week, she said on Vesti-24 television that total grain production could be slightly higher, possibly reaching 95 million tons.

De Mistura said Russia’s history, as well as its ambition for a bigger role on the international stage, also made it a good candidate to step up its donations.

“Russians have suffered in the past from food shortages, and therefore they know what food insecurity means and have a clearer memory of what needs to be done to help others,” he said.

“The country has had a miracle, from being a food importer, even in the Soviet-era, to becoming a big food producer and exporter. And if the Russian Federation wants to play a major role in the international context, one way to do so is using food as a message of cooperation, especially when you have a lot of it.”

The Soviet Union began importing grain from the United States, Canada and Argentina in 1960, after a number of controversial agricultural reforms by then-leader Nikita Khrushchev resulted in a shortage of wheat for domestic needs.

De Mistura discarded claims voiced by some importing countries that Russian grain sometimes falls short of international quality standards.

“Believe me, we’re not closing our eyes to grain quality, but the reports I’ve been getting show that Russia is exporting grain of pretty good quality compared with other providers,” he said.

Russian grain exporters may lose up to $500 million in 2010 as crops are damaged by the eurygaster insect, while major importers, such as Egypt, are raising their quality requirements, Dmitry Rylko, CEO of the Institute for Agriculture Market Studies, said earlier this month.

The World Food Program, established in 1960, is the food aid branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization. WFP provides food on average to 90 million people per year, including 58 million children.