Vilsack: Ukraine farmers need fuel, NYT misses world hunger issue
NEW ORLEANS — Ukrainian Farming and Food Minister Roman Leshchenko told the G7 agriculture ministers on March 11 that Ukrainian farmers will need fuel to plant crops this spring, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters.
Vilsack told the thousands of wheat, corn, soybean and sorghum farmers gathered here for the Commodity Classic that he had participated in an extraordinary meeting of the agriculture ministers of the G7 countries, with Leshchenko speaking to them from a bunker.
Vilsack told the farmers that the experience reinforced with him the importance of living in a democratic country, and that Americans must maintain that freedom.
At a news conference, Vilsack provided more details about the G7 meeting. Leshchenko asked the European countries to provide fuel to make up for the fuel that is being diverted to fighting the war against the Russian invaders, and also asked that open markets be maintained.
Euractiv reported that the G7 countries’ agriculture ministers had signed a joint declaration committing to keep food markets open and support food supply in Ukraine during their meeting.
“He is putting us on notice that we need to do everything to provide as much stability in the marketplace as we can,” Vilsack said.
“Stability is important because in situations like this there is a lot of speculation,” added Vilsack, who has been cautious in his statements about Ukraine.
He added today that it’s unknown how much Ukrainian farmers will be able to grow this year, and that it’s also not known whether the crops can be shipped. At present shipping companies are declining to operate in the Black Sea.
Of the recent New York Times video series criticizing American agriculture, Vilsack said, “What is missing from that video piece is a discussion of world hunger.” Vilsack said that the focus should be not on American agriculture producing less but producing more in a sustainable way to provide the protein needed in the United States and the world.
Vilsack also noted that David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, “charted” the world hunger situation for the ministers. Beasley urged the ministers to be “aware” of the Ukraine situation and to be “thinking now” about responses.
Vilsack noted that USDA has a limited role in international food aid, which is primarily the responsibility of the U.S. Agency for International Development. USDA does administer the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust. Vilsack said it is “an elaborate process to unlock the money” in that trust, but that USDA will unlock it and not spend the money until it is needed.
The Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust is a special authority in the 2014 farm bill that allows USAID’s Office of Food for Peace to respond to unanticipated food crises abroad, when other Title II resources are not available.
The BEHT was originally authorized by the Agriculture Trade Act in 1980 as the Food Security Wheat Reserve, designed to hold up to 4 million metric tons of wheat, later broadened to include a number of other commodities. In 1998, the reserve was renamed the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, in honor of the Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Mo., who died in 1996.
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