More than 60 countries struggling to afford food imports, says leaked UN email

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More than 60 countries around the world are struggling to afford agricultural imports, according to a special U.N. task force created earlier this year to address rising food insecurity after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The task force is focusing its attention on dozens of countries around the world, including Colombia, Malawi, Pakistan and Myanmar, according to a document seen by POLITICO.

The summary of a meeting led by U.N. officials on July 28 says the task force “continues to focus on … the high costs of imports affecting the balance of payments in over 60 countries,” as well as food security challenges stemming from the devaluation of exchange rates and national budgets struggling to afford “essential imports.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres formed the 32-member Global Crisis Response Group, or GCRG, in March — after Russia invaded its neighbor and major food producer Ukraine in February — in order to provide policy proposals for dealing with crises in the energy, finance and food sectors.

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Since then, a “network” of key players on world hunger has been advising the food component of the GCRG, which is jointly led by Inger Andersen, head of the U.N. Environment Programme, and David Nabarro, the special envoy on COVID-19 at the World Health Organization.

The document seen by POLITICO is an email from Nabarro sent on August 4, summarizing the meeting on July 28.

He wrote that participants highlighted how: “In Sierra Leone, poorer people’s consumption of nutritious foods is decreasing as a result of increased prices. Similar risks are being reported from Colombia, Congo, Chad, Ecuador, Iraq, Kenya, Malawi and Mauretania [sic].”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres formed the Global Crisis Response Group in March to provide policy proposals for dealing with crises in the energy, finance and food sectors | Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

It continues: “Consumer organizations report that prices are increasing ever more rapidly in Pakistan, Myanmar, Peru, Malawi, Burundi and Nigeria with increasing numbers of people paying ‘over the odds’ for basic necessities. Around 12 governments are close to default on debt repayments and many seek opportunities for debt relief.”

This informal food crisis advisory group has met 13 times this year but there is no mention of its existence on the U.N.’s website. A U.N. spokesperson said they were unable to immediately comment.

A participant in the July 28 meeting said there is no fixed membership of the group, and that around 30 to 40 people were invited to attend the last meeting.

The U.N. talked through a recent agreement it helped broker with Ukraine, Turkey and Russia to reopen the Black Sea ports around Odesa for food exports, they said.

They also said that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Josef Schmidhuber asked a question about whether the Black Sea deal included any provisions guaranteeing that poorer countries would be able to afford to buy Ukraine’s newly freed grain — but received no answer. POLITICO contacted Schmidhuber for comment, but received an out-of-office message.

“I believe we are making some progress, namely on food,” Guterres said on August 3 of the GCRG’s work.

The GCRG’s so-called Food Workstream Network will hold its next meeting on August 25.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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