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The EU must put money where their mouth is, says Oxfam ahead of EU development minister meeting on food security

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Tomorrow, European development ministers are meeting to discuss how the Ukraine war impacts food security in the world. Ahead of this, Oxfam is calling on the EU to step up and address global hunger crises mushrooming across the world.

The EU has warned that the Ukraine war will send food prices, and with it, hunger skyrocketing. Despite this, there is no new money pledged from the EU and only a fraction from EU countries to soften the blow.

The EU’s only pot of money to tackle food insecurity is the 2.5 billion euro pledge from last December. The amount is not enough to cover the EU’s fair share of feeding the 811 million people – nearly one in 10 people – who did not have enough to eat in 2020. It also does not sufficiently support sustainable agriculture - the small-scale family farming which feeds the majority of people in many poorer countries.

The Ukraine war is compounding an already dire situation. Ukraine’s food exports feed approximately 400 million people. Many poorer countries are dependent on these exports to feed their people. East Africa imports 90 percent of its wheat – a key food for most people in the region – from Ukraine and Russia. This drought-ravaged region is seeing one person likely dying from hunger every 48 seconds.

This is against a backdrop of food prices, on the rise due to the pandemic, skyrocketing because of the Ukraine war. The World Bank estimates a 37 percent increase in food prices. The price of wheat soared 80 percent between April 2020 and December 2021. Combined with the climate crisis, conflict and Covid-19, and exacerbated by poverty and extreme inequality, the consequences are felt most in vulnerable countries impacted by these compounding factors.

Hanna Saarinen, Oxfam EU food expert said:

“Already before the Ukraine war, millions of people across the world could not afford to buy food to feed their families. Now, millions of more people are falling straight into the jaws of hunger.”

“For years, all the warning signs of famine-like conditions were there. We saw countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan hurtling into hunger. Yet, EU leaders failed to heed the warning signs. Instead, they chose not to act with the speed and seriousness the crisis demanded and put food security and sustainable agriculture at the bottom of their to-do list. We saw this with the deplorable decision not to earmark any funding for the sector in the EU’s seven-year long-term budget for 2021-2027.

“And we are seeing the impact of this now. Colleagues in Syria tell us of how Syrians used to fear dying of war, but now they fear dying of hunger. In East Africa, this crisis comes on top of an already devastating situation where one person is likely dying every 48 seconds. Development programmes in this region have remained chronically underfunded and there has been a failure to address the underlying reasons that cause chronic hunger and increase inequality.

“The EU now needs to put its money where its mouth is. We have heard all the right things, now action must follow. The EU can play a role in ending hunger once and for all. But current pledges are a drop in the ocean and were made before the war in Ukraine. They are simply not enough. The EU must bridge the gap between what people can afford and the price of the food they need. It must also reprioritise support for small scale family farming that would form the very foundation of people’s food security. The current crisis underscores the urgency and importance of this.”

Notes to editors

In December 2022, the EU pledged €2.5 billion for 2021-2024 at the Nutrition for Growth Summit in Tokyo. The EU’s envelope covers humanitarian assistance to address urgent needs as well as support to tackle the underlying causes of malnutrition, including a longer-term food systems transformation in EU partner countries.

Food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture were among the EU’s key priorities for development cooperation for the period 2014 - 2020 (the EU’s last MFF/long term budget). The EU committed over 8.8 billion euros to this sector, corresponding to 20% of the EU development portfolio at the time. In comparison, the current budget has allocated no money to food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture.

The EU’s current long-term budget for the period 2021-2027 can be amended next year.

Read Oxfam’s briefing, Ukraine crisis: How and why it could cause hunger crises globally to worsen. It documents case studies of hunger hotspots from Yemen, Syria and East Africa. Over 50 percent of Lebanese wheat exports are from Ukraine according to the World Food Programme. The cost of basic food goods in Lebanon is up 1000 percent.

Read Oxfam and Save the Children’s report, Dangerous Delay 2: The cost of inaction, which shows how one person is likely dying from hunger every 48 seconds in the drought-ravaged East Africa as the world again fails to heed warnings.

The World Food Programme has estimated that Ukraine food exports feed 400 million people.

The World Food Bank Price Estimates are available here.

In April 2022, Oxfam published a new report, “First Crisis, Then Catastrophe”, warning that over a quarter of a billion more people could crash into extreme levels of poverty in 2022 because of COVID-19, rising global inequality and the shock of food price rises supercharged by the war in Ukraine. At the same time, the value of the 1,200 largest companies in the world has increased by 56 percent since the beginning of 2019 and US corporates have made record profits of 37 percent while paying a smaller share of federal tax revenue.

Contact information

Jade Tenwick | Brussels, Belgium | | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

For updates, please follow @NewsFromOxfam and @OxfamEU