Ukraine and Russia export a large chunk of critical food supplies to the international community, but Russia’s war in Ukraine has either interrupted or threatens to halt much of that flow.
The head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is telling billionaires it’s “time to step up” as the global threat of food insecurity rises with Russia’s war in Ukraine, saying he’s seen encouraging signs from some of the world’s richest people, like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley built upon a social media back-and-forth he had with Musk last year, when the Tesla CEO challenged policy advocates to show how a $6bn donation sought by the UN agency could solve world hunger.
Since then, “Musk put $6bn into a foundation. But everybody thought it came to us, but we ain’t gotten any of it yet. So I’m hopeful,” Beasley told The Associated Press at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where some of the world’s biggest elites and billionaires have gathered this week.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take,” he said of Musk. “We’re trying every angle, you know: Elon, we need your help, brother.”
Musk and Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, didn’t immediately respond to emails or other messages seeking comment.
Musk, the world’s richest man, donated about five million shares of company stock worth roughly $5.7bn to an unidentified charity in November, according to a regulatory filing.
It came after Musk tweeted in late October that he would sell $6bn in Tesla stock and give the money to the WFP if the organisation would describe how the money would solve world hunger. The US Securities and Exchange Commission filing did not name any recipients for Musk’s donation.
Beasley told the Associated Press on Monday that his message wasn’t just to those two high-profile tech mavens, but other billionaires, too.
“The world is in real serious trouble. This is not rhetoric and BS. Step up now, because the world needs you,” he said.
Ukraine and Russia together export a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil, while Russia is a top supplier of fertiliser, which has surged in price. The Kremlin’s forces are accused of blocking Ukrainian ports, and the interruption of those affordable food staples is raising the threat of food shortages and political unrest in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The threat to the global food supply has been a pressing concern for officials, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying last week that he was in “intense contacts” with Russia and other key countries and is “hopeful” of an agreement to allow the export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports and to ensure Russian food and fertiliser have unrestricted access to global markets.
If Ukraine’s supplies remain off the market, the world could face a food availability problem in the next 10 to 12 months, and “that is going to be hell on earth”, Beasley said.