UK to host global food security conference amid Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain

Downing Street announces plans for November 20 meeting in conjunction with the UAE and several other NGO partners

A World Food Programme employee walks between sacks of food at a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Reuters
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The UK will host a global food security conference on November 20, Downing Street has announced.

The event will be held in response to Russia’s “stranglehold” on grain exports from war-torn Ukraine.

It is being organised in partnership with the UAE, Somalia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will also highlight the impact that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal has had on food prices, which are surging around the world.

It comes as the Prime Minister prepares to continue his denouncement of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the G20 summit in India.

Mr Putin has opted not to attend the New Delhi G20 leaders’ gathering in person but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to attend.

No 10 has vowed that Mr Sunak will not shy away from criticising Mr Lavrov “to his face” during sessions at the weekend, after the UK government announced military and financial support to ensure food exports could leave Kyiv.

Speaking ahead of his flight to India on Thursday, the Prime Minister said: “Once again, Vladimir Putin is failing to show his face at the G20.

“He is the architect of his own diplomatic exile, isolating himself in his presidential palace and blocking out criticism and reality.

“The rest of the G20, meanwhile, are demonstrating that we will turn up and work together to pick up the pieces of Putin’s destruction.

“That starts with dealing with the terrible global consequences of Putin’s stranglehold over the most fundamental resources, including his blockade of and attacks on Ukrainian grain.”

Mr Putin has said the Black Sea deal, brokered by Turkey and the UN, will not be restored until the West meets Moscow’s demands to ease the shipping of its own agricultural exports.

Russia refused to extend the deal in July, complaining that a parallel agreement promising to remove obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertiliser had not been honoured – an argument the West rejects.

Before Russia invaded in February last year, Ukraine was the world’s fifth-largest wheat exporter, fourth-largest corn exporter and third-largest rapeseed exporter.

The Black Sea grain deal, first signed in July 2022 and extended every three months over the past year, led to 33 million tonnes of grain and food exports leaving Ukraine, with the majority going to poorer parts of the world, according to the UN.

Since pulling out of the deal, Russia has declared that all ships transiting to Ukrainian Black Sea ports will be treated as military vessels – irrespective of the cargo they are carrying.

UK government officials said Moscow had acted upon this stance by firing shots and boarding a cargo ship bound for one of Ukraine’s Danube ports – action London thinks may constitute a breach of international humanitarian law.

No 10 said the UK was gearing up to use intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to monitor Russian activity in the Black Sea and call out Moscow if there were warning signs that Russian forces were preparing attacks on civilian shipping or infrastructure.

It will also attempt to attribute attacks to prevent false flag claims from Russia that aim to deflect blame.

As part of the surveillance operations, RAF aircraft were conducting flights over the area to deter Russia from carrying out strikes against civilian vessels transporting grain, Downing Street confirmed.

Alongside military efforts to deter Russian attacks, the UK will also contribute £3 million to the World Food Programme to continue work started under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Grain From Ukraine initiative.

The Ukrainian President’s programme was established in November to send his country’s food exports to countries where people were suffering from the high global price of staples.

Updated: October 16, 2023, 11:43 AM