Fighting food insecurity means following the urban lead

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

My fellow local leaders and I urge the EU to not further delay action and keep the promises of the European Green Deal, Vice-President of Lyon Métropole Jérémy Camus writes.


On this World Food Day, I write not only in my capacity as Vice-President of Lyon Metropole-Greater Lyon but also as a representative voice of fellow mayors across Europe. 

The issue of food insecurity is undeniably one of the most pressing challenges of our age especially considering our system is prone to waste.

The evidence is in the data. According to Eurostat’s calculations, over 58 million tonnes of food waste is produced in the EU each year. 

Around 10% of the food available to EU consumers — encompassing retail, food services, and households — may be thrown away. Alarmingly, whilst this waste occurs, over 37 million individuals in the EU are unable to afford a quality meal every other day.

Factors like the rising cost of living, climate change, the Ukraine conflict, and the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic have compounded food accessibility issues. 

The European Food Banks Federation recorded that their members could not meet food demand in 2022. Even more worryingly, gainfully employed persons, students and single parents sought material support for the first time in 2022 due to the escalating cost of living.

Hesitance and caution over food legislation?

In the broader European landscape, these numbers and farmers’ difficulties to continue working under current conditions — also caused by climate change — have made the European Commission cautious about the direction of food legislation. 

The current line indicates hesitation, especially evidenced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s decision to call for a strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture and postpone the publication of the Sustainable Food Systems Framework law and other linked legislation. 

This postponement can be perceived as a sign of wavering commitment to the ambitious goals set out in the European Green Deal. 

The delay highlights the challenges in reconciling sustainability goals within the food system with concerns about growing food insecurity.

According to the United Nations’ “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”, European cities and metropolitan areas, rather than rural areas, are experiencing higher levels of food insecurity.

In response, they are setting ambitious goals for a healthier, more sustainable and inclusive food system and can share their knowledge and experience to show the way forward.

What are the cities like Lyon doing?

So, what are cities and metropolises doing? In Lyon Metropole, for example, we want to ensure every resident can access nutritious, quality, and affordable food. 

We’ve shortened supply chains by re-localising production, providing fresh produce that is more readily available to our communities. This benefits consumers and supports our local farmers, fostering a more sustainable and resilient food system.

Our commitment to organic food has been reflected in our school canteens, where we promote healthier eating habits from a young age. 

We’re also piloting a participatory scheme whereby residents can shape how the local budget is used to combat food insecurity. These measures aren’t isolated actions but part of a broader, systemic change we seek to achieve on our territory.

Lyon Metropole is not alone. Fellow municipalities I met last month at the Eurocities working group on food are going in the same direction, and I witnessed similar experimentations starting all across Europe.

For many European cities and metropolises, food justice isn’t just a phrase — it’s an integrated approach seamlessly woven into our ongoing efforts to enhance food work in our regions. And when I say “region”, I mean an area broader than the metropolis’s borders.


What can the EU do to help?

One of the overarching misconceptions around food security is the distinction between urban and rural. These two environments have traditionally been seen as separate entities with different concerns and solutions.

However, numbers from the European Commission show that approximately 50% of the EU’s rural population lives in proximity to a city, often being part of wider metropolitan areas. 

Life in cities, suburbs, and surrounding rural areas overlaps more than ever, leading to a strengthened sense of connection rather than separation. 

It is therefore imperative for cities and metropolitan areas across Europe and for European legislation to foster a shared vision between urban and rural neighbours, one that seeks to address food insecurity and promote sustainability.

How can the EU help? For once, the European Union plays a crucial role in safeguarding the right to experiment, enabling local authorities to test innovative solutions tailored to specific contexts. 


It can also facilitate the direct use of funds ensuring that resources are channelled efficiently, avoiding potential bureaucratic delays and allowing cities to respond to immediate needs. 

Moreover, the EU can create synergies between food policies and overarching social and health strategies. 

Recognising and acting on the inextricable ties between these areas can lead to holistic solutions that promote healthier populations, reduced inequalities, and sustainable food systems.

However, there is an evident lack of policy coherence in the current EU legislation. 

The conversation around food is not just that

Addressing food security and food justice isn’t a singular task. It spans a spectrum of interconnected domains: agriculture, health and nutrition, social justice, the environment, and even international trade. 


It’s about synthesising a consistent EU vision for food’s future, looking at the broader picture, interlinking various sectors and players.

It’s evident that the conversation around food in the EU is not merely about agriculture or even food security in isolation. 

It’s about fostering a dialogue that accommodates diverse voices and perspectives, ensuring that everyone can get food on their plates that is not only nutritious and safe but also the product of a fair, sustainable, and coherent system. 

My fellow local leaders and I urge the EU to not further delay action and keep the promises of the European Green Deal. 

Jérémy Camus (Les écologistes) is the Vice-President of Lyon Métropole Grand Lyon.


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Knowledge gaps for perishable liquid food packs threaten Green Deal

Professor Fredrik Nilsson, Packaging Logistics, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University

Policymakers are currently deliberating on packaging reuse targets in the proposed EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). But do they have the necessary evidence to make those decisions for all packaged products? A systematic review of 159 relevant scientific studies on packaging alternatives for perishable liquid foods[1] — milk, juices, nectars and plant-based drinks — suggests there is a clear gap in holistic impact assessment knowledge.

Packaging of perishable liquid foods exists in various forms such as aseptic paper-based beverage cartons or non-aseptic solutions such as plastic or glass bottles. Each packaging solution has an impact on the quality, safety and shelf life of the food it contains. In assessing packaging solutions, efforts should be made to understand the wider context of reuse targets for perishable liquid foods, with consideration for packaging types, food security, food safety, food waste and environmental impacts.

In both research and policy contexts, packaging is still often considered separately from its contents in impact assessments.

However, in both research and policy contexts, packaging is still often considered separately from its contents in impact assessments, despite an existing body of knowledge and evidence showing that food and its packaging should be treated as an integrated unit.

Consequently, policymakers served only with evidence of packaging impacts could be misled and make inaccurate decisions when discussing the measures included in the proposed EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). This risks undermining the EU’s Green Deal ambitions.

The importance of the analysis

One of the primary objectives of the proposed PPWR is to ensure that “all packaging in the EU is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030”, in line with the EU Green Deal and the EU Circular Economy Action Plan. Setting reusable packaging targets was always likely to spark a robust debate with the food industry. The European food system uses a large amount of packaging and the use of single-use packaging in particular has grown significantly in the past decades. For perishable liquid foods, producers today prefer recyclable single-use packaging — such as aseptic beverage cartons — for the sale of 75 percent of milk, 59 percent of juices and a major share of plant-based drinks in the EU[2].

We undertook a comprehensive and systematic analysis of all identifiable studies on single-use versus reusable packaging for perishable liquid foods.

With a specific focus on the 154 billion liters of perishable liquid foods produced in the EU each year[3], a more fundamental question occurred to the Packaging Logistics division in the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University. We wondered if a sufficient body of evidence existed to help policymakers make packaging reuse decisions, so we undertook a comprehensive and systematic analysis of all identifiable studies on single-use versus reusable packaging for perishable liquid foods.

The scale of the knowledge gap that we uncovered was eye-opening.

Findings from the study

Based on an analysis of 159 identified scientific papers, we came to three main conclusions.

First, the research and knowledge of food waste for single-use packaging compared to reusable packaging alternatives for perishable liquid foods was clearly insufficient. No studies were found that evaluated reusable packaging for such foods in relation to food waste, consequently no studies were found comparing single-use packaging with reusable packaging in this regard. A few studies were found that evaluated different single-use packaging alternatives in terms of the packaging and the liquid food being contained, finding that multilayer carton packages had the lowest environmental impact. Most environmentally-focused studies on food packaging did not consider the food saved or wasted.

The research and knowledge of food waste for single-use packaging compared to reusable packaging alternatives for perishable liquid foods was clearly insufficient.

Second, there were few studies comparing reusable and single-use packaging for perishable liquid foods in terms of food safety and quality. Instead, the majority of sampled papers simply provided insights and evidence for critical factors to be considered in food production and supply chain handling to keep liquid foods safe and of sufficient quality. This analysis surfaced several challenges related to reusable packaging, some related to food safety and others to quality limitations. For example, some studies pointed out quality-related challenges from plastic refillable bottles, such as the absorption of chemicals from previous use.

Finally, while there were many papers addressing shelf life as a critical aspect for perishable liquid foods — and many that empirically provided evidence of lower food waste in retail and at the consumer stage when shelf life is prolonged — there were still sizable knowledge gaps. No studies were found that compared the shelf life of single-use versus reusable packaging for perishable liquid foods. None were found that evaluated the shelf life of reusable packaging for such foods in relation to food waste, and none were found that clarified what optimal shelf life is for different products.

In our view, the key knowledge gaps at this time are: evidence of food waste impacts for reusable alternatives, so that a comparison with recyclable single-use packaging is possible; comparative studies on food safety and quality impacts through using single-use and reusable alternatives; shelf life comparisons; impact assessments that also take into account climate and land-use impacts; and, most importantly, food packaging studies that take into account the product that the packaging contains and protects. 

Key knowledge gaps need to be addressed

Policymakers should be insisting on accessing a more holistic knowledge base built on assessment of impact, before they finalize reusable packaging targets in the PPWR. 

The evidence we have today suggests that greater food safety, food security and food quality could be achieved by increasing the use of recyclable single-use packaging.

A more holistic perspective is crucial to help policymakers avoid measures that might miss higher environmental gains, compromise consumers’ health and wellbeing, and reconfigure the packaging industry. Further knowledge might indicate that reusable packaging for perishable liquid foods is feasible under specific circumstances. However, the evidence we have today suggests that greater food safety, food security and food quality could be achieved by increasing the use of recyclable single-use packaging. Support for that choice is already demonstrated today through the packaging chosen by the majority of European milk, juice and plant-based drink producers.

[1] Perishable foods are defined in EU legislation under Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 as foods which, from a microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health.

[2] AIJN, Liquid Fruit Market Report, 2018, p.7

[3] Key figures on the European food chain, Eurostat, 2021

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The Ukraine war and extreme heat are threatening global food security

Russia’s partial blocade of Ukrainian grain exports as well as extreme weather events have fuelled fears about global food supplies, but things may not be as bad as they seem, according to the OECD.

The global grain export outlook had to be amended after major exporter Ukraine once again began to face Russian military threat on its shipments on the Black Sea. The situation has been aggravated by extreme heat decimating the produce of the world’s largest exporters in Asia, and India announcing a partial ban on its rice exports.


This perfect storm of diminishing grain supplies and heat waves has inflamed fears that global food security could be in dire straits. But are these concerns well-founded?

Why has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine been so dangerous for food supplies?

Since Moscow pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July 2023, there’s been no guarantee of safe passage for tens of millions of tonnes of produce from Ukraine.

Russia has blockaded the country’s Black Sea ports, and ships that carry grain are under the constant threat of attack by its forces.

Turkey and the UN are currently in discussions with Moscow to restore the deal, which would allow Ukrainian grain vessels to pass through unhindered. However, President Vladimir Putin poured cold water on any sense of that happening after talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday, demanding first that the West facilitate Russian agricultural exports.

Both Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s key agricultural producers and major suppliers of grains such as wheat, maize, and oilseeds such as rapeseed and sunflower seed, many of which developing African nations rely on.

According to the UN, while the Black Sea Grain Initiative was in place, low and middle-income countries collectively received 57% of the grain leaving those ports.

The World Food Programme, which provides food assistance worldwide, got half of its wheat supply from Ukrainian export last year and more than three quarters this year, which was sent to countries with low food security such as Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Other African countries also import a large proportion of their cereals through the Black Sea region.

The African Development Bank (ADB) estimates that 15 out of 54 African nations buy more than half their wheat from either Ukraine or Russia.

Many of these countries face high inflation and growing difficulties in feeding their populations, and the strengthening dollar, a reaction to tense and uncertain geopolitics, has further escalated the problem.

“Some of these countries have been victims of a triple shock,” said Marion Jansen, director for trade and agriculture at the OECD. “Originally, the dollar price of grains went up. On top of that, the dollar became more expensive. And on top of that, those countries were suffering from supply chain shocks in logistics.”


Extreme heat takes a toll on crops across Asia

It’s not just the war that is threatening global food security, but the weather too. Both rice and wheat supplies are now facing alarming shortages.

China’s grain production has suffered significantly from the extreme heat, mainly due to the intensification of El Niño. The climatic phenomenon, which triggers changes in temperature and rainfall, has impacted grain produce across Asia.

Forecasts for lower rainfall in September are further threatening to disrupt supplies.

“We are still waiting for the official numbers of these [cereal production in China, ed.] to come out, but these are things that can impact markets,” explained Jansen.

Meanwhile India, which accounts for 40% of global rice exports, has announced an export ban on non-basmati white rice and broken rice, to curb high prices inside the country, essentially halving Indian rice exports.


The lack of rain has also taken a toll on Australia’s wheat output.

“Wheat production is going to be three million (metric) tonnes lower than our initial estimate of 33 million tonnes,” Ole Houe, director of advisory services at agricultural brokerage IKON Commodities, told Reuters. “If the dryness continues in September, we are looking at an even lower crop.”

How much produce is missing from the food market?

With grain exports stalled in Ukraine and the heat wreaking havoc with crop production in Asia, you might be wondering just how much of a shortfall there is.

In July, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization had foreseen record high production: 2,819 million tonnes in 2023, 1.1% higher than in the previous year.

Since then, the latest data from the International Grains Council’s August forecasts has suggested a lower output, but also a strong global production with just below 2,230 million tonnes of produce worldwide.


The report also notes the increasing risks stemming from global supply uncertainty.

The Council doesn’t exclude a price rally in grains and oilseeds due to the situation in Ukraine. The IMF previously estimated a 10-15% rise in grain prices if the Black Sea Grain Initiative is not restored.

However, recent events are unlikely to cause a seismic shift in the global food industry, according to the OECD.

“Now we are seeing a slight downward adjustment because of the weather conditions in places like Canada, Europe, and also China.” said Jansen. “So far we do not have the impression that we expect big shocks in terms of renewed big price increases.”

“Production has adjusted, logistics chains have adjusted and this will continue to happen,“ she explained.

“What is very important in situations like this, is for countries to remain calm and not contribute to nervousness in the market by, for instance, introducing new export restrictions because this could drive prices up again,“ Jansen added.

Restoring Ukrainian exports to their full potential remains crucial, especially seeing as the country foresees a better cereal yield than expected, along with Kazakhstan. But with talks between Moscow and the West stalled, the grain deal’s future remains uncertain.

Nevertheless, overall output can be supported by the winter wheat production in the Americas. The US has a good chance to benefit from above-average precipitation in southern states from November to February: a positive by-product of El Niño.

South American weather is also expected to be crop-friendly for soybeans and corn which will be harvested in early 2024.

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School meals in Europe: Which countries provide free food for students

A quarter of children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU. Some families have difficulties in feeding their kids. Five EU countries provide universal free school meals for at least some ages. Others mostly supply meals for the students whose families get income-related benefits.

Many children in Europe go back to school this week but some of them will be returning to their classrooms hungry. In 2022, a quarter of children in EU member states were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. 


Free or subsidised school meals can help to make sure that children are fed and give them adequate nutrition. But the provision of free school meals in the EU varies substantially

Real wages fell in most European countries as inflation reached its highest levels in 2022. Real minimum wages also decreased in most EU member states. Low-income households are particularly struggling to cope with the resulting cost-of-living crisis.

“My brothers and I relied on free school meals,” Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, tweeted with a photo in which he appeared with his brothers.

Almost 300,000 primary students in London will be getting free school meals throughout the 2023/24 academic year. In 2022/23 academic year, 2.16 million pupils were entitled to free school meals in England, representing 23.8% of all students, while 1.6 million infant pupils were recorded as receiving free school meals in January 2023.

In the UK, children are eligible for free school meals if they live in a household which gets income-related benefits and has an annual income of less than a particular amount. This was £7,400 (€8,650) after tax, not including welfare payments in England.

Free school meals in the EU

According to a recently published academic article entitled “Free school meals for all poor children in Europe: An important and affordable target?” by Anne-Catherine Guio of the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research, the political priority given to providing free school meals to children in need varies significantly across the EU.

Some countries clearly prioritise such provision to all or most children, while others aim to reach children in vulnerable situations or some schools. Some pilot programmes also exist in some countries where school meals are not provided on a large scale.

By ‘full meals’, we mean school lunches – which doesn’t include breakfast clubs, school fruit or milk programmes, or sandwiches.

As of 2021, provision practices can be grouped into four categories according to research funded by the European Commission.

1. Universal free meals (at least at some ages):

Finland, Sweden and Estonia are the three EU member states providing universal free meals for all age groups.

Latvia and Lithuania provide free meals to some grade levels. One full meal per day is given for first to fourth grade students, and in some municipalities, for older students. In 2020, Lithuania began to provide free meals for pre-primary and first-grade pupils.


2. Targeted free meals across the whole country

There are 10 EU member states which provide free meals to low-income children and other groups of children who may face disadvantages, such as children in public care and refugee children. Eligibility criteria in this group differs.

Cyprus: It is free in all-day primary schools for pupils who live in households that receive a gross minimum income, children of asylum seekers, unaccompanied migrant children, children under the guardianship of the state and children in households in which a member has a severe disability or health problem.

Czechia: It is free for low-income children aged 3-15 (receiving minimum income) if schools participate in the funding scheme.

Germany: Lunch is only provided in all-day schools, mostly subsidised. It can be reimbursed as part of the education and participation benefits of low-income households with children with basic income support for jobseekers, social assistance, asylum seekers benefits or supplementary child benefits or housing benefits.

Hungary: It is free in primary school (50% reduction in secondary school) for children receiving regular child protection benefits or in foster care.


Luxembourg: The price depends on the household income. It is free for children living in a household receiving the minimum income or to children identified by local social offices as “experiencing precariousness or social exclusion.”

Malta: It is only free in state schools for children in low-income households; those with a student/parent/sibling suffering from a terminal illness or chronic mental health illness; students experiencing neglect due to family difficulties, domestic violence or substance abuse; and those with refugee status or asylum seeker/subsidiary temporary protection.

Portugal: The price depends on the household income. It is free for children living in a low-income household or with disabilities.

Slovakia: It is free for children living in a low-income household in primary schools and all children in the last year of preschool education.

Slovenia: It is free for children living in a low-income household.


Spain: Provision practices vary between autonomous communities and two autonomous cities. It may be free for children living in a low-income household, children in foster care, children in a household suffering from gender-based violence, victims of terrorism, unaccompanied minors and those with disabilities.

United Kingdom: It depends on the household income.

3. Subsidised meals and/or free meals not covering the whole country

Some countries prefer to mostly target schools rather than individuals. Schools are generally selected in disadvantaged regions. There are also 10 EU member states that provide either subsidised meals and/or free meals but do not cover the whole country. They are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, France, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Romania.

In France, the meals are free in about 50 municipalities out of 35,000. The price depends on the household income in most large towns. As part of the 2017 poverty action plan, local authorities offering a progressive price scale with price segments equal to or below €1 can benefit from a state contribution.

In Belgium, a pilot project is carried out among the French-speaking community targeted at the most disadvantaged schools at only the pre-primary level.

4. No provision

Denmark and the Netherlands do not provide free school meals.

Free school meals began in 1948 in Finland

Feeding students has a long history. Schools, charities and governments in Europe have been providing children with school meals for over a century, in various forms and for various reasons. In Finland, the provision of universal free school meals for all children attending school began in 1948.

Do children need free school meals?

There are several findings showing that some EU inhabitants need support to get proper food. In 2022, 8.3% of the EU population were unable to afford a meal containing meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every second day. This rate was 19.7% for people who were at risk of poverty.

More importantly, 24.7% of children in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2022. This ranged from 10.3% in Slovenia to 41.5% in Romania.

The UK (29.2), Italy (28.5) and France (27.4) are among the countries where the percentage of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion is higher than the EU average. This rate was 24% in Germany.

This risk was less than 14% in the Netherlands and Denmark – two countries that do not provide free school meals.

More food is consumed on Mondays

Another finding also shows the significance of free school meals. In Finland, the consumption of food at schools on Mondays can be 20% more than on other weekdays. According to Anne-Catherine Guio’s report, this may indicate that during the weekend, children in low-income families do not receive enough food.

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Why allowing Ukraine to ship grain during Russia’s war matters to the world

Agreements that the United Nations and Turkey brokered with Ukraine and Russia to allow food and fertilizer to get from the warring nations to parts of the world where millions are going hungry have eased concerns over global food security. But they face increasing risks.

Moscow has ramped up its rhetoric, saying it may not extend the deal that expires Monday unless its demands are met, including ensuring its own agricultural shipments don’t face hurdles.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative has allowed 32.8 million metric tons (36.2 million tons) of food to be exported from Ukraine since last August, more than half to developing countries, including those getting relief from the World Food Program.

If the deal isn’t renewed, “you will have a new spike for sure” in food prices, said Maximo Torero, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization chief economist. “The duration of that spike will depend a lot on how markets will respond.”

The good news is some analysts don’t foresee a lasting rise in the cost of global food commodities like wheat because there’s enough grain in the world to go around. But many countries are already struggling with high local food prices, which are helping fuel hunger.

Here’s a look at the crucial accord and what it means for the world:

Ukraine and Russia signed separate agreements in August 2022 that reopened three of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which were blocked for months following Moscow’s invasion. They also facilitated the movement of Russian produce amid Western sanctions.

Both countries are major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on. Ukraine is also a huge exporter of corn, and Russia of fertilizer — other critical parts of the food chain.

Interrupted shipments from Ukraine, dubbed the “breadbasket of the world,” exacerbated a global food crisis and sent prices for grain soaring worldwide.

“One major agricultural producer is waging war on another major agricultural producer, which is affecting the price of food and fertilizers for millions of people around the world,” said Caitlin Welsh, director of the Global Food and Water Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The deal provides assurances that ships won’t be attacked entering and leaving Ukrainian ports. Vessels are checked by Russian, Ukrainian, U.N. and Turkish officials to ensure they carry only food and not weapons that could help either side.

Meant to be extended every four months, the deal was hailed as a beacon of hope amid war and has been renewed three times — the last two for only two months as Russia insisted its exports were being held up.

What has it accomplished? 

The deal helped bring down global prices of food commodities like wheat that hit record highs after Russia invaded Ukraine.

As the war caused food and energy costs to surge worldwide, millions of people were thrown into poverty and faced greater food insecurity in already vulnerable nations.

Once the grain deal was struck, the World Food Program got back its No. 2 supplier, allowing 725,000 metric tons (800,000 tons) of humanitarian food aid to leave Ukraine and reach countries on the precipice of famine, including Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Yemen.

“It is a pretty unique phenomenon to have two warring parties and two intermediaries agree to establish this sort of corridor to get humanitarian products — which is ostensibly what this is — out to markets that need it most,” said John Stawpert, senior manager of environment and trade for the International Chamber of Shipping, which represents 80% of the world’s commercial fleet.

What threatens the deal? 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow wouldn’t extend the grain deal unless the West fulfills “the promises given to us.”

“We have repeatedly shown goodwill to extend this deal,” Putin told reporters Thursday. “Enough is enough.”

He said he wants an end to sanctions on the Russian Agricultural Bank and to restrictions on shipping and insurance that he insists have hampered agricultural exports.

Some companies have been wary of doing business with Russia because of sanctions, but Western allies have made assurances that food and fertilizer are exempt.

“It’s not uncommon in situations like this for countries to use whatever levers they have to try and get sanctions regimes changed,” said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a letter to Putin this week proposing to ease transactions through the agricultural bank, a spokesperson said.

Russian “claims that its agriculture sector is suffering are countered by the reality” that production and exports are up since before the war, Welsh said.

Russia exported a record 45.5 million metric tons of wheat in the 2022-2023 trade year, with another all-time high of 47.5 million metric tons expected in 2023-2024, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

Who is affected? 

The International Rescue Committee calls the grain deal a “lifeline for the 79 countries and 349 million people on the frontlines of food insecurity.”

East Africa, for instance, has seen both severe drought and flooding, destroying crops for 2.2 million people who depend on farming for their livelihoods, said Shashwat Saraf, the group’s regional emergency director for East Africa.

“It is critical that the deal is extended for a longer term to create some predictability and stability,” he said in a statement.

Countries that depend on imported food, from Lebanon to Egypt, would need to find suppliers outside the Black Sea region, which would raise costs because they are further away, analysts say.

That would compound costs for countries that also have seen their currencies weaken and debt levels grow because they pay for food shipments in dollars.

For low-income countries and people, food “will be less affordable” if the grain deal isn’t renewed, World Food Program chief economist Arif Husain told reporters.

What about Ukraine? 

Ukraine’s economy depends on agriculture, and before the war, 75% of its grain exports went through the Black Sea.

It can send its food by land or river through Europe, so it wouldn’t be cut off from world markets if the grain deal ends, but those routes have a lower capacity than sea shipments and have stirred anger from farmers in neighboring countries.

Nonetheless, the Ukrainian Grain Association wants to send more grain through the Danube River to neighboring Romania’s Black Sea ports, saying it’s possible to double monthly exports along that route to 4 million metric tons.

Ukraine’s wheat shipments have fallen by more than 40% from its pre-war average, with the USDA expecting 10.5 million metric tons exported in the coming year.

Ukraine has accused Russia of slowing down inspections of ships and preventing new ones from joining the initiative, leading to a drop in its food exports from a high of 4.2 million metric tons in October to 2 million in June.

What else affects food supply? 

Fallout from the pandemic, economic crises, drought and other climate factors affect the ability of people to get enough to eat.

There are 45 countries that need food assistance, the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a July report. High domestic food prices are driving hunger in most of those countries, including Haiti, Ukraine, Venezuela and several in Africa and Asia.

While drought can also be a problem for major grain suppliers, analysts see other countries producing enough grain to counterbalance any losses from Ukraine.

Besides Russia’s huge exports, Europe and Argentina are increasing wheat shipments, while Brazil saw a banner year for corn.

“These markets adapt and producers adapt — and boy, the wheat and corn markets have adapted very, very quickly,” said Peter Meyer, head of grain analytics at S&P Global Commodity Insights.

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The EPP Group is wrong to spurn the EU’s nature restoration law

By Olivier De Schutter, Co-Chair, and Emile Frison, Panel Expert, IPES-Food

It’s time politicians abandon these cynical games and tackle the challenges we are facing seriously, Olivier De Schutter and Emile Frison write.

Before walking out of the negotiations on the Nature Restoration Law last week, the EPP parliamentary group shared a rather dramatic list of problems with the European Commission’s proposal. 

In a series of tweets in the group’s social media feed, it was claimed that the proposed law would lead to “increased food prices” and “even a global famine”. 

As the European Parliament prepares to vote on the law on Thursday, we need a reality check — and an end to scaremongering around NRL and the EU’s Farm2Fork strategy.

Growing more food is not the solution to rising hunger

The reality today is that the world already produces more than enough food to feed a growing population, according to UN data. 

Indeed for the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of population growth. 

But unlike what voices for ever-more intensification claim, this hasn’t stopped rising hunger.

Rising hunger has little to do with levels of production — and everything to do with where that food goes and doesn’t go. 

Around a third of the food we produce is thrown away or left to rot. 

A vast majority of the world’s calories are used to feed animals — livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land (factoring in feed) while producing less than 20% of the calories. And around one-tenth of all grain is turned into biofuel. 

Growing more food to direct to any of these ends will do nothing to reduce hunger or famine.

This helps to explain why, after the invasion of Ukraine, even as global diplomatic efforts succeeded in getting Ukrainian grain flowing again and emergency measures enabled the planting of fallow land set aside for nature protection, food price inflation still remains stubbornly above 5%, and queues for food banks are no shorter. 

It turns out most of the extra production was used to grow animal fodder. Meanwhile, rising supermarket prices are connected far more to profiteering than they are to environmental regulation.

‘Feed the world’ advocates are missing the point

We have to be honest about the situation. Never has our food system been so industrialised, chemically intensive, and global. 

Yet it has resulted in three food price crises in 15 years. And progress on global hunger is in reverse — thanks to volatile speculation-prone commodity markets and a debt crisis that is bankrupting countries and preventing them from tackling hunger. 

It has long been known that the problem of hunger is one of distribution and poverty — but Big Food lobbyists continue to claim the contrary.

The “feed the world” advocates of the EPP are missing the forest for the trees. 

The biggest risk to food production of all is climate change and the current industrial model that is decimating nature and making it harder to sustain necessary levels of production in the long term. 

Climate change wiped nearly 10% off EU yields for some crops last year – and is already ravaging farm incomes on a regular basis.

Farmers are the victims of the existing system, too

Just last month, Italy experienced devastating floods destroying swathes of its agricultural heartland. 

Spain and Portugal, toiling under one of the worst droughts in recent history, have requested the activation of the European Food Security Crisis Preparedness and Response Mechanism for the first time ever because their food security is at risk. 

We know that soil degradation, chemical contamination, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss are putting crop yields at risk — and that industrial farming is a primary cause. 

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans is right when he says that food cannot grow “when the soil is dead and that there are crop failures due to drought”.

Farmers, the backbone of our food systems, are being hit hard by both economic and climate instability. 

They face price volatility, both for the inputs they buy and for the products they sell.

Though giant agri-food corporations are reaping record profits these past two years, farmers are as much victims of the boom-bust cycle of food markets as consumers — where price surges lead farmers into overproduction, prompting farmgate prices to suddenly fall. 

Farmers in some EU countries have even been protesting as they sit on large quantities of unsold commodities.

This can’t continue

We can’t go on like this. If MEPs are serious about feeding the world, they should jump at the opportunity that the Nature Protection Law and the Farm2Fork present.

Not only will it put us on a path to a more sustainable food system, help reduce waste and put more power in the hands of farmers and communities. 

It will also do this while restoring our natural world, increasing biodiversity, and making everyone’s quality of life better.

Failure to take action now will leave Europe confronting a future of climate disaster, decimated biodiversity and water scarcity, with no tools in the box. 

It’s time politicians abandon these cynical games and tackle the challenges we are facing seriously. 

Farmers, consumers, policymakers and corporations — we need to take action for a food system that is much more diverse, resilient, healthy and sustainable in every region.

Will we stay trapped in a cycle of disaster?

There is ample evidence that farming systems that work with nature, like agroecology, provide economic performance, reliable yields, resilience to climate change, and preserve biodiversity. 

Further delaying and diluting the Farm2Fork strategy does nothing for world food security. 

It just keeps us trapped in a cycle of disaster while depriving Europeans of a more resilient future.

Olivier De Schutter is co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and Emile Frison is the former director general of Biodiversity International and an IPES-Food panel expert.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Green Week Debate 2023: Can Europe lead the way on food security?

As part of Euronews’ Green Week, our expert panel will explore how Europe can future-proof its food security in the face of climate change and rising global hunger.

More and more people are going hungry globally. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 345 million people are now facing acute food insecurity, more than double the number affected in 2019.

The combined shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and spiralling food, fuel and fertiliser costs have ignited a cost of living crisis across Europe and the world.

The climate emergency is playing a role too. According to the UN, climate change is now one of the “leading causes” of global hunger, with the food crisis likely to “spiral out of control” if the world fails to take immediate action.

While the situation is most pressing in East African countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia, the impacts of climate change are being felt across the globe. In Europe, food security is being threatened by extreme weather, with the continent now in drought since 2018, according to a recent study from the Graz University of Technology in Austria.

The situation is being made more complex by the climate impacts of the food system itself, creating a feedback loop where the emissions from global food production are making climate change worse.

As the climate emergency escalates, will technology and innovation make food systems more resilient? And if innovation is the answer, who is going to pay for it?

As Europe looks to the future, what will the changing climate mean for our diets, and will consumer food choices help to steer us in a more sustainable direction?

As part of Euronews’ Green Week, we’ll be putting these key questions and more to a panel of experts during our live debate on Thursday 8th June at 3.00pm (CEST)

Meet our panel:

Edward Davey, Director of Partnerships, Food & Land Use Coalition (FOLU) & Co-Director, World Resources Institute UK

Edward Davey is the Director of Partnerships at the Food and Land Use Coalition. He is responsible for ensuring that FOLU drives real and lasting impact in international processes and institutions on the food systems agenda. Edward is also Co-Director of WRI UK. He is the author of ‘Given Half A Chance: Ten Ways to Save the World,’ published in 2019.

Dr. Lee Ann Jackson, Head, Agro-Food Trade and Markets Division, Directorate for Trade & Agriculture, OECD

Dr. Lee Ann Jackson is the Head of the Agro-Food Trade and Markets Division in the Trade and Agriculture Directorate (TAD) at the OECD. Dr Jackson manages a team that develops evidence-based advice for governments with the aim of helping them improve the domestic and international performance of their policies for agro-food trade and markets.

She joined the OECD in 2020 after 16 years at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) where she served as the Secretary to the WTO’s Committee on Agriculture in the Agriculture and Commodities Division.

Prof. Mladen Radisic, CEO, Foodscale Hub & Communication Manager, CrackSense

Prof. Mladen Radišić is CEO at Foodscale Hub, an Impact Venture Studio working to accelerate the shift towards tech-enabled innovations in the agrifood sector. He is also a university professor specialising in Business and Finance.

He has previous experience in running large-scale projects and has organised international EU-funded business accelerator programs. These projects and programs provided €15 million to more than 300 European SMEs and startups, covering sectors such as agrifood, ICT, manufacturing, logistics, health, finance, energy, and environment.

Marloes Martens, Product Manager, Human Nutrition & Health, Ynsect

Marloes Martens is Product Manager of Human Nutrition & Health at Ÿnsect. As part of her role, she also works with R&D on the development of new products, as well as with sales – she is the link between the technical departments and the sales people.

As part of her Master’s degree in Health-Food Innovation Management at the University of Maastricht, she founded Oatelli, a project aimed at improving fibre consumption in the Netherlands.

If you would like to submit a question for our panel, please fill in the form below:

Is food production causing climate change?

Food production is one of the leading causes of climate change, accounting for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Resources Institute.

Animal products currently make-up two-thirds of all agricultural emissions and use more than three-quarters of agricultural land. Food production is water intensive too, with an average of 70 per cent of the world’s freshwater used during agricultural production.

To make matters worse, roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, with the EU wasting approximately 131 kg per person in 2020 alone.

How is the EU planning to improve food security?

The EU cites the climate, a lack of resources and population growth among the factors behind its Food 2030 policy, which seeks to make European food systems more sustainable, while ensuring everyone has enough affordable and nutritious food.

With research and innovation at its heart, the policy covers everything from land and water-based production, to food processing, retail and distribution, packaging, waste and recycling, and consumption. It aligns with the EU’s flagship Green Deal vision.

Research has shown that EU citizens are hungry for change too. A 2022 WWF report found that 74 per cent of respondents believed that Europeans should eat food that is better for the environment, while 66 per cent agree that eating sustainable food is key to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss.

In order to make food systems more resilient though, the EU must combine technological innovation and regenerative farming, while increasing the diversity of its cereal crops to ensure resilient food for the future.

How can innovation make food systems more resilient?

Building innovation into the current food system is a complex undertaking, especially as the climate emergency evolves.

In the long term, the EU is looking to reduce its dependence on imports such as fertilisers and plant-based proteins for animal feed, while at the same time funding projects which provide solutions to climate issues.

One of the latest projects to receive EU funding is the Greek based initiative CrackSense. The project aims to address the problem of fruit cracking, which can happen due to an erratic water supply and leads to fruit drop and yield loss. By developing and upscaling sensing technologies, the project is able to provide real-time data on fruit conditions, which could be adapted for other crops too.

As the climate emergency escalates, can Europe ensure food security and future-proof its farms? Join us on Thursday 8th June at 3.00pm (CEST) to debate one of the most important issues of our time.

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Macron’s Africa reset struggles to persuade

Paul Taylor is a contributing editor at POLITICO.

PARIS — The bigger the humiliation, the more grandiloquent the relaunch. 

After a year that saw French forces conducting counterinsurgency operations against jihadist rebels hounded out of Mali and Burkina Faso by military coups, anti-colonialist street protests, and Russian disinformation and mercenaries, President Emmanuel Macron announced a fundamental overhaul of France’s Africa strategy. 

“Humility,” “partnership” and “investment” are now the keywords in a reset that Macron outlined in a speech he delivered before embarking on his 18th trip to Africa in just eight years. 

Many Africans were understandably skeptical as the French president took his new doctrine on a tour of Gabon, Angola, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — an eclectic mix of former French, Belgian and Portuguese colonies that have big economic potential, and are being heavily courted by Russia and China as well as Europe. 

“The days of la Françafrique are well and truly over,” Macron insisted in Gabon’s capital Libreville.  He was not the first president to promise an end to the postcolonial manipulation of African politics, with crony ties between the French elite and long-serving African autocrats.  

The French leader’s enunciation of a sea change in Franco-African ties sounded oddly like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s proclamation of a Zeitenwende — an epochal turning point in Berlin’s policy toward Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“We have reached the end of a cycle of French history in which military questions held preeminence in Africa,” Macron said, the first French president to be born after the end of colonial rule. Henceforth, “there will be no military bases as such,” but “new military partnerships” with African allies, and French forces on the continent will be focusing on training local troops. 

In a conscious effort to shed the mantle of paternalism and hard security, Macron built his four-day trip around the themes of saving African forests, developing agriculture, investing in African business and supporting a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. He also went clubbing in Kinshasa, beer in hand, with Congolese singer Fally Ipupa. 

He steered clear of France’s traditional West African backyard, where Paris’s counterinsurgency policy suffered its deepest setbacks.

“Our destiny is tied to the African continent. If we are able to seize this chance, we have the opportunity to anchor ourselves to the continent, which will increasingly be one of the youngest and most dynamic economic markets in the world, and one of the great centers of global growth in the decades to come,” Macron said. 

He was making a virtue of necessity, to say the least.  

By shrinking its military footprint without abandoning key footholds in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Djibouti, France hopes to avoid further forced retreats from the continent’s strategic corners. Then, referring to Russia’s Wagner mercenaries who have supplanted French forces in Mali and the Central African Republic, Macron said he was sure Africans would soon regret the paramilitary group’s presence.  

But small crowds of anti-French demonstrators in Libreville and Kinshasa were a reminder of France’s tarnished image among many young Africans, as well as accusations of political interference that dog Macron’s attempt at a new start.  

In Gabon, protesters accused the French leader of helping veteran President Ali Bongo’s reelection campaign — a charge he felt obliged to deny. And in the DRC, he faced both public criticism from President Felix Tshisekedi, as well as protests by opposition activists.  

If you’re France, in Africa, you simply can’t win. No one is going to take your professions of good faith, political neutrality, partnership and brotherly love at face value. 

Macron has arguably been the most progressive French president when it comes to Africa, officially acknowledging colonial France’s mistreatment of Algerians, and seeking an ever-elusive reconciliation. He has apologized in Rwanda for his country’s role in failing to prevent the 1994 genocide by Hutu militias against ethnic Tutsis. He has created a commission to investigate colonial massacres in Cameroon too.  

Macron has reached out to youngsters, civil society and start-ups, sometimes over the heads of African governments. He has agreed to scrap the CFA franc — the eight-nation West African currency tied to France — to be replaced by the Eco in 2027. He is the first French leader to have returned cultural treasures to Africa as well, sending a collection of statues to Benin in what is likely to set a precedent. 

Yet, though they make French nationalists’ blood boil, such gestures are too little, too late for many Africans. 

France would probably be best advised to channel its efforts instead under the more politically acceptable banner of the European Union, which is building a comprehensive partnership with the African Union — the key principles of which were outlined at a summit in Brussels in February 2022.  

As bad luck would have it, however, that budding relationship has been overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has monopolized the EU’s political and financial attention. 

Africans clearly see how the bloc — France included — has plowed billions of euros in military and financial assistance into Ukraine, while support for African peace and security efforts has been far more constrained. They also see how Ukraine has gained EU candidate status and been center stage at every summit, while Africa had to struggle to secure even belated help in procuring COVID-19 vaccines.  

Moreover, the war in Ukraine has added to food insecurity and an energy-price squeeze on the continent. For many Africans, Europe seems more concerned with blaming Russia than helping. 

Macron’s African reset is in many ways a halfway house — he admitted as much in his big speech. “We are held accountable for the past without having been totally convincing about the shape of our common future,” he said. 

The decision to rebrand the African bases as joint training ventures was itself reportedly a compromise between advisers who argued against yielding another inch to France’s adversaries, and others who want to shutter most outposts and refocus the armed forces on preparing for possible high-intensity warfare in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. 

While 61 percent of voters think France should stay in Africa because of its economic and security interests — as well as to help prevent mass migration to Europe — an Odoxa poll for Le Figaro showed that a similar majority is pessimistic about Franco-African ties, and doubtful of Macron’s ability to build a new relationship. 

This may not be the last Franco-African reset.

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Chairman FAO: Western powers pressure China’s UN food boss to grip global hunger crisis

ROME, Italy — The Chinese head of a crucial U.N. food agency has come under intense scrutiny by Western powers, who accuse him of failing to grip a global hunger crisis exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Qu Dongyu, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, has alienated the Western powers that are the agency’s main backers with his technocratic leadership style and connections to Beijing that, in their view, have damaged its credibility and capability to mitigate the crisis.

POLITICO has interviewed more than a dozen U.N. officials and diplomats for this article. The critical picture that emerges is of a leader whose top-down management style and policy priorities are furthering China’s own agenda, while sidelining the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February was met with weeks of eerie silence at the FAO, and although the messaging has since changed, Qu’s critics say FAO should be showing stronger political leadership on the food crisis, which threatens to tip millions more people into hunger.

“Nobody actually takes him seriously: It’s not him; it’s China,” said one former U.N. official. “I’m not convinced he would make a single decision without first checking it with the capital.”

In his defense, Qu and his team say a U.N. body should not be politicized and that he’s delivering on the FAO’s analytical and scientific mandate.

Chairman FAO

Qu Dongyu was elected in 2019 to run the Rome-based agency, handing China a chance to build international credibility in the U.N. system, and punishing a division between the EU and the U.S after they backed competing candidates who lost badly. The election was clouded by allegations of coercion and bribery against China.

Now, as he prepares for a likely reelection bid next year to run FAO until 2027, Qu — who describes himself as a conflict-averse “humble, small farmers’ son” — is under intensifying scrutiny over his leadership during the crisis.

After three years of largely avoiding the headlines, Qu drew criticism from countries like France and the U.S. for his sluggish and mealy-mouthed response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a massive exporter of food to developing countries.

The EU and U.S. forced an emergency meeting of the FAO’s Council in the spring in order to pressure the FAO leadership into stepping up to the plate, with Ukraine demanding he rethink his language of calling it a “conflict” and not a war. The communications division was initially ordered to keep schtum about the war and its likely impacts on food supply chains. In May, Ukrainians protested outside FAO HQ in Rome demanding Russia be kicked out of the organization.

At a meeting of the FAO Council in early December, countries like France, Germany and the U.S. successfully pushed through yet another demand for urgent action from FAO’s leadership, requesting fresh analysis of impact of Russia’s war on global hunger, and a full assessment of the damage done to Ukraine’s vast farm system.

China has not condemned Russia outright for invading Ukraine, while the EU and the U.S. use every opportunity in the international arena to slam Moscow for its war of aggression: Those geopolitical tensions are playing out across the FAO’s 194 member countries. Officials at the agency, which has $3.25 billion to spend across 2022 and 2023, are expected to act for the global good — and not in the narrow interest of their countries.

Qu is said still to be furious about the confrontation: “[He] is still upset about that, that really annoyed him,” said one ambassador to the FAO. “He sees the EU as an entity, a player within the FAO that is obstructing his vision.”

Qu featured on a TV screen inside the FAO headquarters in Rome | Eddy Wax/POLITICO

Though Qu has now adapted his language and talks about the suffering being caused by Russia’s war, some Western countries still believe FAO should respond proactively to the food crisis, in particular to the agricultural fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The FAO’s regular budget and voluntary funds are largely provided by EU countries, the U.S. and allies like Japan, the U.K. and Canada. The U.S. contributes 22 percent of the regular budget, compared to China’s 12 percent.

Qu is determined to stick to the mandate of the FAO to simply provide analysis to its members — and to steer clear of geopolitics.

“I’m not [a] political figure; I’m FAO DG,” he told POLITICO in October, in an encounter in an elevator descending from FAO’s rooftop canteen in Rome.

FAO’s technocratic stance is defended by other members of Qu’s top team, such as Chief Economist Máximo Torero, who told POLITICO in May: “You are in a war. Some people think that we need to take political positions. We are not a political entity that is the Security Council — that’s not our job.”


Qu can hardly be said to be apolitical, as he is a former vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs of the Chinese Communist Party.

On top of his political background he has expertise in agriculture. He was part of a team of scientists that sequenced the potato genome while he was doing a PhD at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. In an email to POLITICO his professor, Evert Jacobsen, remembered Qu’s “enthusiasm about his country,” as well as is “strategic thinking” and “open character.”

Yet Western diplomats worry that many of the policy initiatives he has pushed through during his tenure map onto China’s foreign policy goals.

They say that the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals have been eclipsed by his own initiatives, such as his mantra of the Four Betters (production, nutrition, environment, life), and Chinese-sounding plans from “One Country, One Priority Product” to his flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative.

Some Western diplomats say these bear the hallmarks of China’s Global Development Initiative, about which Qu has tweeted favorably.

Detractors say these are at best empty slogans, and at worst serve China’s foreign policy agenda. “If the countries that are on the receiving end don’t exercise agency you need to be aware that these are policies that first and foremost are thought to advance China, either materially or in terms of international reputation, or in terms of diplomacy,” said Francesca Ghiretti, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS).

Insiders say he’s put pressure on parts of the FAO ecosystem that promote civil society engagement or market transparency: two features that don’t go down well in Communist China. The former U.N. official said Qu had subjected the G20 market transparency dashboard AMIS, housed at FAO, to “increased pressure and control,” causing international organizations to step in to protect its independence earlier this year.

The diplomat said Qu was trying to suffocate the Committee on World Food Security, which invites civil society and indigenous people’s groups into FAO’s HQ and puts them on a near-equal footing with countries. “What has he accomplished in two-plus years? You can get Chinese noodles in the cafeteria,” they said.

Flags at the entrance to the FAO headquarters in Rome | Eddy Wax/POLITICO

But at a U.N. agency that has historically been deeply dysfunctional, Qu is popular among staff members.

“Mr. Qu Dongyu brought a new spirit on how to treat staff and established trust and peace between staff and management,” said one former FAO official.

Even his sharpest critics concede that he has done good things during his tenure. He made a point of shaking every staff member’s hand upon his election, even turning up occasionally unannounced to lunch with them in the canteen that he’s recently had refurbished. There’s also widespread appreciation among agriculture policymakers of the high quality of economic work turned out by FAO, and support for his climate change and scientific agenda.

“The quality of data FAO produces is very good and it’s producing good policy recommendations,” one Western diplomat acknowledged.

FAO play

Three years into his term, there’s a much stronger Chinese presence at FAO and Chinese officials occupy some of the key divisions, covering areas such as plants & pesticides, land & water, a research center for nuclear science and technology in agriculture, and a division on cooperation between developing countries. A vacant spot atop the forestry division is also expected to go to a Chinese candidate.

Experts say those positions are part of a strategy. “China tries to get the divisions where it can grow its footprint in terms of shaping the rules, shaping the action and engaging more broadly with the Global South,” said Ghiretti, the MERICS analyst.

The EU Commission is closely monitoring trends in staff appointments and data collection. “He’s hired a lot of young Chinese people who will fill [the] ranks later,” said an EU diplomat.

Mandarin is heard more than before in the corridors of the Rome HQ, a labyrinthine complex built in the 1930s by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to house its ministry of overseas colonies.

Western diplomats and staffers past and present describe Qu as a poor communicator, who displays little care about engaging with or being accountable to countries and who tends to leave meetings after delivering perfunctory remarks, all of which leaves space for rumor and suspicion to grow.

Even those who acknowledge that Qu has made modest achievements at the helm of FAO still see his leadership style as typical of a Chinese official being kept on a tight leash by Beijing. The EU and U.S. criticized Qu’s move to push back an internal management review that was meant to be conducted by independent U.N. inspectors, and will now likely not emerge until after the next election.

And although FAO is still receiving bucketloads of Western funding, its fundraising drive specifically for rural families and farmers in war-torn Ukraine is still $100 million short of its $180 million target, a pittance in an international context — especially amid deafening warnings of a global food supply crisis next year. 

That’s partly because the U.S. and EU prefer to work bilaterally with Kyiv rather than going through FAO. “This is the time for FAO to be fully funded,” said Pierre Vauthier, a French agronomist who runs the FAO operation in Ukraine. “We need additional money.”

A plaque outside Qu’s fourth floor office at the FAO headquarters in Rome | Eddy Wax/POLITICO

There’s no love lost on Qu’s side, either. In June, he went on a unscripted rant accusing unnamed countries of being obsessed with money, apparently in light of criticism of his flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative.

“You are looking at money, I’m looking to change the business model because I’m a farmer of small poor, family. You from the rich countries, you consider the money first, I consider wisdom first. It’s a different mentality,” Qu said, before complaining about his own salary being cut.

Asked repeatedly, Qu did not confirm to POLITICO whether he would stand for a second four-year term, but traditionally FAO chiefs serve at least twice and he is widely expected to run. Nominations officially opened December 1. The question is whether the U.S., EU or a developing nation will bother trying to run against him, when his victory looks all but inevitable.

There’s competition for resources between the World Food Programme (WFP), a bastion of U.S. development power, and FAO. A Spaniard, Alvaro Lario, was recently appointed to run the third Rome-based U.N. food agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, while WFP’s chief David Beasley is expected to be replaced by another American next year.

In any case, the countries that Qu will likely count on to be re-elected are not so interested in the political machinations of the West or its condemnation of the Russia’s war in Ukraine, which it seeks to impress upon FAO’s top leadership.

“Our relations with the FAO are on a technical basis and not concerned by the political positions of the FAO. What interests us is that the FAO supports us to modernize our agriculture,” said Cameroon’s Agriculture Minister Gabriel Mbairobe.

Other African countries defend FAO’s recent track record: “They’ve been very, very active, let’s be honest,” said Yaya A.O. Olaniran, Nigeria’s ambassador to the FAO. “It’s easy to criticize.”

This story has been updated.

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