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Global Food Security

Volume 719: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2022

Putin is using food and fuel as weapons of war. The UK has helped to facilitate the release of Ukrainian grain through technical advice, military assistance and practical equipment, as well as diplomatic efforts led by the Foreign Secretary, which I am sure she will continue as Prime Minister. We are supporting the vulnerable globally, both directly and through our influence in multilateral institutions, particularly in the Horn of Africa, where droughts are driving humanitarian catastrophe. We are also investing in research, development and innovation, as well as sustainable agriculture, which is boosting crop yields and improving food production in many vulnerable countries.

Now then, we have a chap in Ashfield whose name is Wade, who runs the only independent cheese counter in Ashfield. He tells me that Putin’s war in Ukraine is increasing food prices all over the country and affecting his prices so that he cannot keep the prices down. Does the Minister agree that instead of blaming the Government for food prices increasing, the Labour party should get behind us and help us get that grain out of Ukraine to reduce the price in the UK and the rest of the world?

My hon. Friend is spot on. It is Putin’s war that is driving up food prices right across the world, and this UK Government have been rolling up our sleeves to help, especially on getting the grain out of Ukraine. We have put in military assistance and practical equipment, for example to mend the railroads, and technical advice. There has been a massive diplomatic effort, which I know our new Prime Minister will continue. Some 90 ships of grain have left Ukraine since 1 August, and more is needed; 3 million tonnes are estimated to have been moved by land routes last month, which is 10 times as much as was moved last March. The grain is coming out, and the UK will continue in our work to support those food-vulnerable people across the world.

The recent floods in Pakistan are devastating millions and having a severe impact on their food security, especially for women and girls. My Committee’s recent report found that, internationally, 50 million people in 45 countries are on the edge of famine. Climate change, fertiliser costs and conflict all pose a serious threat to food production and distribution globally. I welcome the Government’s reallocation of the £15 million of existing aid to Pakistan, but how will that contribute to the long-term food insecurity it faces, and what programmes were cut as a consequence?

The Government are very focused on the food vulnerable across the world. For example, we committed an extra £130 million to the World Food Programme, which was announced at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting earlier in the summer. We are also a major investor in research and development, especially in sustainable agriculture. The “Room to Run” guarantee, for example, which I signed with the African Development Bank earlier this year, will enable it to raise up to $2 billion, which it is investing in improving agricultural systems, including more advanced seed, across the continent of Africa. That is how we are helping to boost food production in those very vulnerable countries, as well as supporting humanitarian needs.

I pay enormous tribute to the United Nations Secretary-General and all those who have been working on opening up the ports in southern Ukraine, and to the British Government for the work they have been doing alongside the Turkish Government to ensure that those shipments have flown. However, what work is the Minister doing with sub-Saharan Africa? Many of the countries we are talking about—not just Pakistan, which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) rightly named, but many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa—are suffering very severely from the rise in food prices. The World Food Programme has done an enormous amount to make sure that food gets out there, and I pay tribute to its Nobel prize-winning efforts, but Her Majesty’s Government can do more too.

As ever, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and I thank him for raising the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. The ship that arrived in Djibouti last week with grain from Ukraine going to Ethiopia was welcome, but the situation in east Africa in particular is catastrophic, affecting more than 40 million people. We are a major donor to east Africa: we are expecting to spend £156 million this year, and we have already spent half of that. That money is going into the most urgent priorities, providing food, water, shelter and medicines for millions of people, but we are also leading efforts to bring in other donors, such as the $400 million that we helped to raise through the UN, and pushing the World Bank and others to do more too.

Many people in Malawi experience nutritional deficiencies, such as insufficient protein. Indeed, 37% of children there experience stunting. What further action will the Government take to support nutritional programmes in Malawi?

I visited Malawi earlier this year. We are a major donor to the country. There has been some fantastic work on the polio situation there, with more than 3 million children—all those in the target population—having been vaccinated. It is a very fragile country, which we continue to support closely.

Earlier this summer, it was reported that the Treasury had blocked aid payments for the duration of the summer while the Conservative leadership contest ran. I immediately wrote to the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary, asking what that would mean for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, and requesting an urgent response; 42 days later, I have heard nothing back. This at a time when someone reportedly dies every 48 seconds in the horn of Africa hunger crisis. By my estimation, that means that more than 75,000 may have died. Last night the World Food Programme issued a stark warning, saying that famine is “imminent” and Somalia has run out of time. Can I please finally get some answers today, and seek the Minister’s reassurance that the new Foreign Secretary will stop the block on aid payments as an urgent priority?

The UK remains one of the largest donors of official development assistance in the world. In Somalia in particular, the situation is tragic. We have been leading the way with our aid and to bring in other donors. The hon. Member knows that I announced further advancements of funding into Somalia from the UK just last week. We continue to prioritise Somalia, but it is important that we bring in other donors, which is why we have worked with the World Bank, encouraging it to accelerate the $30 billion that it is sending out across the world into the horn of Africa, which it is now doing.