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Biden uses U.N. speech to highlight food fears

At the United Nations General Assembly, President Joe Biden made clear the impact of food insecurity is already at our doorstep.


President Joe Biden’s address to the United Nations on Wednesday focused heavily on the international coalition of countries responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

But it wasn’t all militaristic. The president spent a fair share of his speech at the gathering — the first in-person U.N. General Assembly in three years — discussing global food insecurity, and the potential for food shortages to worsen international conflict. 

 “We all know we’re already living in a climate crisis,” he said. “No one seems to doubt it after this past year.”

Biden added that "families are facing impossible choices, choosing which child to feed and wondering if they’ll survive.”

This, he said, is “the human cost of climate change,” which is “growing not lessening.” 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain exporters, has hit food prices and highlighted the impact global conflict can have on food supply. From an American perspective, it can be easy for many of us to see helping other countries to establish and fortify their own food supplies as charity. But that's obviously foolish. There’s a clear line between food scarcity abroad, whether that’s imposed through climate change or conflict, and food troubles — empty shelves and rising prices — in the United States. 

Shortly before Biden’s speech, the White House announced it would authorize $2.9 billion in aid to help fight global food insecurity. The White House said those funds are in addition to $6.9 billion the U.S. committed to the U.N. earlier this year. 

A fact sheet released by the White House said the money will largely be divvied among several, multimillion-dollar projects, including improving countries’ water supplies, shoring up school feeding programs in Africa and East Asia, and helping small farmers purchase better tools so they can produce more efficiently.  

Last November, I wrote about a virtual conference I attended, hosted by the International Crisis Group, that centered on the strife that’s occurred as climate change alters agricultural opportunities in countries across the world. And it focused on how the resulting scarcity can lead to acrimony and even violence.

The problem is more acute in the U.S. than many people likely realize. States experiencing droughts, like Arizona, are already having to ration their water supply, which (pardon the pun) has a downstream impact on the agricultural opportunities in those states. And that scarcity has predictably led to feuds

The fact that Biden used this address before the world body to emphasize food insecurity should be a signal to anyone who may be mistaken: The problem has reached our doorstep.