U S Bolsters Aid For Cambodia Amid Efforts To Ease Global Food Crisis

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced $25 million over five years to support an initiative that will work with farmers and others in the agriculture industry to get produce to more markets.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The United States will give $25 million in agriculture development aid over five years to projects in Cambodia to help alleviate food insecurity, an issue made more urgent by Russia’s war in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Thursday.

The new aid is part of a 12-year-old American food security project in Cambodia and will fund an initiative called Harvest Three, in which the U.S. Agency for International Development will work with Cambodian farmers and others in the food industry to get products to more markets. The focus will include grains and fish, Mr. Blinken said.

“The needs are urgent,” he added. “Far too many Cambodians still live in food insecurity. Far too many Cambodian children are malnourished.”

There has been a shortage of grains in parts of the world because Russia’s navy has blockaded ports in Ukraine, a critical exporter. On Monday, a ship loaded with corn sailed from Odesa, the first cargo vessel to do so in more than five months of war. But experts say it will do little to make a dent in a global food crisis that the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, has warned could last for years.

Mr. Blinken has made global food insecurity a signature issue since President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia began his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The secretary has urged other countries in meetings at the United Nations and elsewhere to help alleviate the grain shortages, and he has pressed for Russia to end its blockade of the Ukrainian ports.

“Food insecurity around the world is on the rise because of Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine,” Mr. Blinken said, “which has blocked millions of tons of Ukrainian crops from being shipped to global markets.”

The scale of the crisis — fueled by wars, the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and extreme weather often worsened by climate change — is huge. According to the U.N. World Food Program, as many as 50 million people in 45 countries are on the brink of famine.

The United Nations and Turkey recently negotiated an agreement in which Russia would allow food shipments to sail past the Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea.

Officials from the United States and other nations are watching the shipments closely to see whether Russia continues to honor the accord. At any time, the Russian Navy could again shut down cargo passage.

Speaking by phone on Thursday with Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, Mr. Blinken praised the months of Turkish diplomacy that had resulted in the corn shipment. He emphasized the importance of cooperation to ensure that other ships would be able to leave the ports and the importance of holding Russia to its commitments.

Cambodia, which is home to about 17 million people, is largely rural, with about 60 percent of the population living outside urban centers. The agriculture sector accounts for more than 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and it employs more than three million Cambodians directly, according to the State Department.

The aid that Mr. Blinken announced on Thursday in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, will be a boon to the country’s farmers. He said that it was aimed at giving them more access to greenhouses and at helping them distribute their goods to more markets in the country and abroad, as well as at helping women and young people get more out of investment in the sector.

“We have the know-how to improve farming across all climates, across all income levels, so that countries have their enduring capacity to produce their own food,” Mr. Blinken said.

“With this new phase, we’re basically expanding our scale,” he added. “Harvest Three will be nationwide.”

Mr. Blinken also met with Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, on Thursday and discussed food and energy insecurity. Energy prices surged in the United States and Europe after the start of the war in Ukraine, but gasoline prices in the U.S. have dropped in recent weeks.

Before those talks, Mr. Borrell told reporters that the United States and Europe had to make it clear to the world that Russia’s war and blockade, not sanctions placed on Russia, were the cause of the global food and energy problems. The two officials were meeting on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations being hosted this week by Cambodia.

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