Permanent Mission of Australia
to the United Nations
New York

220519 - UN Security Council Open Debate on Conflict and Food Security


19 May 2022

Statement by H.E. The Hon. Mitch Fifield, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you, Mr President. And thanks to the briefers for the update.

Colleagues, we are gathered for a clear reason. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is threatening global food security. It is compounding the devastating impact that COVID, conflict, and climate have had on fragile food systems, causing further disruption to global food production and exports, thereby inflating already high commodity and food prices.

The numbers, it must be said, are alarming. 43 million people were on the brink of famine before the invasion of Ukraine. Now the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates an additional 33–47 million people will fall into “acute food insecurity” as a direct result of the invasion. This demonstrates the causal effect of conflict on hunger crises, including in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Yemen, among other examples.

I would also like to call out yet again the disinformation that we have heard today and in recent weeks. That is, the disingenuous claim that the food security crisis we are discussing has been caused by ‘Western sanctions’.

That is incorrect.

The food security crisis is occurring because global food prices are now at record high levels. These record highs are a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Record highs because Ukraine is preoccupied with defending itself against Russia’s unprovoked, unjust and illegal invasion, rather than shipping grain. Record highs because more than 7 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the war. And agricultural land and civilian infrastructure has been damaged, significantly disrupting the growing season and access to markets.

Let’s be clear: one way to rapidy improve food security is for Russia to immediately end its war in Ukraine.

Another useful response to growing food insecurity is to focus on humanitarian needs, including through organisations like the World Food Programme. Famine can be averted with early action, but this requires unhindered humanitarian access and a well‑resourced, rapid response.  Australia calls on all actors to allow access for humanitarian agencies to reach those most in need.

International trade should also support food security. The most critical short-term global response to curtail the food price increases is maintaining open, transparent, and predictable agricultural trade.

Experience and evidence clearly show that domestic protections like trade barriers and subsidies make economies weaker and are more costly in the long run. Despite this, the scale of current restrictions being imposed on food and fertilizer trade surpass those enacted during the last major food crisis of 2007-08, according to the World Bank. These restrictions will reduce the amount of product available for global trade, bringing up prices and causing supply chain issues as countries compete for alternative supplies.

Australia urges all countries to keep agricultural trade open to improve access to food, lower import barriers and cut export restrictions. Our highest priority should be to ensure food can make its way to the most vulnerable. Australia will always remain a reliable, open supplier of food products to the world.

But the greatest and most immediate improvement will come from the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.