This op-ed ran in The Hill on March 23, 2022.
Right now, 45 million people across 43 countries are on the brink of famine. As Vladimir Putin wages his unjust and unprovoked war in Ukraine, the stability of agricultural markets is further threatened, and with it, the food security of millions of people.
The scale of hunger around the world is a crisis, and it has only been exacerbated by recent events. The pandemic jeopardized access to food through supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and higher food costs, increasing the number of people at risk of famine by 60 percent in the last two years. Afghanistan alone has over 11 million people facing acute hunger and over three million children suffering from malnutrition. In Yemen, which has been fighting a prolonged hunger crisis for seven years, the number of people facing food insecurity is expected to rise to 19 million by the end of this year alone.
Together, Russia and Ukraine account for 30 percent of the world’s wheat supply. Ukraine is a large grain producing country, not just in wheat, but ranking as a top ten global exporter of corn, sunflower oil, and other commodities. It provides produce to markets not just in Europe, but to some of the most vulnerable countries throughout Africa and the Middle East.
As we watch Ukrainians flee their homes, millions of people whom are forced to adopt refugee status, the number of people facing hunger will climb higher. And with tightening global grain supplies, the situation will only grow more dire.
Hunger isn’t an isolated issue; it affects us all. When Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe, is unable to feed itself, we can be sure that this crisis will ripple: hungry mouths around the globe will go hungrier. And, as a nation, we must do more to address it. Fortunately, there is an existing resource meant for this moment, one where exceptional need exists around the world, and it’s past time to utilize it.
Established in 1980, the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust is an emergency international food aid program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). When global food security needs have outpaced the United States’ capacity to respond through other food assistance resources, the Emerson Trust is a release valve for intensifying and compounding global food emergencies like the ones we are experiencing today.
In the last ten years, the Emerson Trust has been released just once to meet unforeseen global hunger needs, and this is a crisis that calls for it. As both the immediate and long-term effects on Ukraine’s agriculture sector become clearer, the United States should work quickly to provide the necessary commodities through sale or donation to meet countries’ unsatisfied food and commodity needs – and the Emerson Trust would allow us to do that.
As co-chairs of the Senate Hunger Caucus, we are continuing our call on Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack and USAID Administrator Samantha Power to act now to authorize the trust’s release to purchase U.S. commodities, saving lives around the world. Doing so will help alleviate a greater humanitarian crisis than has already been caused by the unprovoked invasion and will help foster political stability in food insecure countries.
Sens. Moran and Brown are co-chairs of the Senate Hunger Caucus.