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US announces three-year agriculture partnership with Ukraine to address food crisis

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GENEVA (NYTIMES) – The US Secretary of Agriculture on Thursday (June 16) announced at the United Nations a three-year agriculture partnership between the United States and Ukraine to address global food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The partnership, in the form of a memorandum of understanding, was signed virtually earlier this week by the secretary, Mr Tom Vilsack, and Ukraine’s minister of agriculture.

Mr Vilsack said the agreement was focused on providing technical assistance to Ukraine, which before the war was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of grain and seeds, and helping the country rebuild its agriculture industry after the war ends.

Mr Vilsack said the United States would take several other steps to address the crisis, including incentives to growers to expand their production and, accordingly, increase the amount of grain available for food aid.

The war in Ukraine has caused global food and energy prices to soar and risks creating grain supply shortages in countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that depend heavily on imported wheat and grain from Ukraine.

The United Nations has warned that a global food crisis, already in the making because of climate change and the pandemic’s disruption of supply chains, would place hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation.

A global effort is underway to release some 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain that are trapped by Russia’s blockade of the country.

The UN is also negotiating a deal in which Russia would allow transport of Ukrainian grain from ports in the Black Sea in exchange for exports of Russian fertilisers to the world market without the threat of sanctions.

“Food should not be a weapon,” Mr Vilsack said. “It’s essential to get the grain most needed out of the ports.”

Turkey, which has played a mediating role in the food conflict, offered Wednesday to host four-way talks with Ukraine, Russia and the UN. But a breakthrough would require ports in Ukraine to be de-mined and ships to be escorted through safe corridors to avoid mines in the Black Sea. A UN spokesperson, Mr Stephane Dujarric, said Thursday that there was no update on negotiations.

Mr Vilsack said that while negotiations for sea transportation continued, a parallel track was necessary to move and store grain overland through Romania and Poland by railway.

This would reduce the risk of grain being stolen and would free up storage for Ukrainian farmers who will soon need to harvest winter crops, he said.

“These negotiations are incredibly important,” Mr Vilsack said, but added: “We remain sceptical about the Russians and whether or not they are coming to this to get to the ultimate yes.”

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