“Avoiding a hurricane of famine”!

Wheat field in Ukraine.

Already in mid-March, Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, declared: “We must do everything possible to avoid a hurricane of famines and a collapse of the world food system”.

On Friday, June 3, 2022 in Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea, after 100 days of war in Ukraine, the Senegalese head of state and current president of the African Union, Macky Sall, declared to Vladimir Putin: “I came to see you, to ask you to be aware that our (African) countries (…) are victims of this crisis, economically speaking. Senegal is well placed to know this, as it imports more than 50% of its wheat from Russia.

Briefing note on the importance of Ukraine and the Russian Federation to global agricultural markets and the risks associated with the current conflict. Rome 2022 @FAO

The figures are indeed indisputable. Russia and Ukraine accounted for 30% of the world’s grain exports before the war. And according to experts, between 2018 and 2020, Africa imported half of its wheat consumption from Russia and Ukraine. The Ukrainian minister, Taras Kachka said in Davos (Le Monde, 29 and 30.5.2022) “In 2021, we exported 20 million tons of wheat and 24.6 million tons of corn, almost all by sea.

Odessa harbour, Ukraine Photo: Patrik Rastenberger/NEFCO (CC BY-NC 2.0)

But the Russian Black Sea fleet is blocking Ukrainian ports, especially Odessa. And mines have been laid at sea by the defenders to prevent a possible landing. As a result, 20 to 25 million tons of grain are blocked in Ukraine. The thousands of wagons, trucks and barges mobilized to transport the grain to the ports of Constanta in Romania and to the Baltic ports will not empty the stocks.

On the Russian side, the sanctions are blocking export logistics and the Swift bank settlement system, which the Russians can no longer use, is limiting or even preventing all payments, particularly for African and Middle Eastern buyers, and therefore all supplies.

Shortage and price increase.

As a result, the price of wheat has increased by about 40 to 45% since the beginning of the year. In Paris, the price has risen from 280 euros per ton to 400 euros. The Senegalese president also expressed alarm that the soaring price of fertilizers, mainly produced in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, “could cause a collapse of “20 to 50%” of grain yields in Africa this year.

If no solution is found soon, the paralysis will extend to 2023. Taras Kachka, Ukrainian minister, says that “80% of the arable land is planted and we will have a wheat production comparable to that of 2021”. But if stocks remain full, due to a lack of exports, where will the harvests, which will now begin in July for wheat and in August for corn, be put?

He concludes, “If we do not solve this disposal problem, 2023 will be worse. It will be worse for Ukraine and its farmers because of the lack of money to buy fuel and to harvest. As well as for the countries and populations that will lack wheat, barley, corn, sunflower, fertilizers and seeds!

During Macky Sall’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president said “We are ready to offer safe passage to ships using these ports, including Ukrainian ships”. Of course, this would imply that certain sanctions be lifted and that these ports be “demined”. It is clear that there is still a long way to go, and time is running out. How can we deliver arms and strengthen sanctions while at the same time easing some of them for the export of grain from the two belligerents engaged in intense fighting!

In the Horn of Africa. ©EU/ECHO/Mo Dahir (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the absence of negotiations and concessions, Amin Awad, the UN crisis coordinator for Ukraine warns “Failure to open these ports will lead to famine, destabilization and mass migration in the world. According to him, 1.4 billion people could be affected.

Not only must the humanitarian community engage in an exceptional and sustainable effort in Ukraine, but they must also prepare for the risks of hurricanes, especially in Africa and the Middle East, in the most fragile countries weakened by the Covid 19 pandemic and, for some, victims of a terrible drought as in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

War, pandemic, climate change, drought and lack of cereals, fertilizers and seeds, the emergency equation is there and we must mobilize as never before. Already, on June 2, Chad declared a “food emergency”.

The huge challenge we face is that humanitarian organizations, and even the WFP (United Nations World Food Program) and the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), are dependent on sanctions. So what can they do?

“We take food from the hungry to give to the starving,” says David Beasley, the head of the WFP.

The humanitarian response is necessary. Do the maximum and beyond when it is a question of survival, even life and death. We have to get out of the habit, ask ourselves the same questions as the populations and find and anticipate the best answers to each particular situation. Because if humanitarian organizations do not have the global answer, they are the best placed on the ground, with the populations and the authorities, to react, case by case.

Food aid distribution in South Sudan. Photo ONU/Tim McKulka. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Let’s stock up on food as soon as possible and in quantity, especially to fight malnutrition. Let’s look for alternative solutions with the distribution of food vouchers and cash transfer programs.  Let’s develop certain crops (cassava, millet, sweet potatoes, cowpeas), let’s coordinate better with local actors, let’s prioritize relief efforts and reduce agricultural losses.

We can also contribute where we have added value and leverage with the Global Alliance for Food Security (GAFS) and the French initiative FARM (Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission) by acting against speculation, adapting and strengthening solidarity mechanisms and local production capacities. Can rice, whose prices are still stable, be an alternative?

To prevent the “hurricane of famines” that could claim more victims than the conflict in Ukraine, the solutions for a “secure maritime corridor” on the scale of the quantities to be transported are not numerous. The option of going by force entails a major risk, that of a naval battle in the Black Sea and its complete closure. There is the proposal of President Macky Sall to put the food sector “out of sanctions” and to allow the export of Ukrainian and Russian wheat. This is what is at stake in the ongoing negotiations between Ukraine, Turkey and Russia. Another option is for the main wheat exporters, excluding Ukraine and Russia, Europe (36 million tons), the United States (21 million tons) and Australia (25 million tons), according to estimates for 2022-2023, to organize a real emergency sea bridge to avoid famine and hunger riots.  The countdown has already begun.

Alain Boinet.

President of Défis Humanitaires.

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« S’il n’en reste qu’une » by Patrice Franceschi : When the novel is put to the test of the world

Kurdish women fighters in Syria ©Patrice Franceschi.

“I was entering the unknown”… This sentence, on page 104 of Patrice Franceschi’s new novel, could be the title, so much it is a question, in this book, of seizing the reader, and of taking him where the implacable reality obliges you to live in the truth, the one that we sometimes grope for… The world is rough and tragic, especially when this truth is obscured by the fog of war. Patrice Franceschi knows it, who has been walking the lands of misery, despair and conflict for many decades, and reads, like a saving discipline, the ancient Stoics.

The contemporary poet Jean-Pierre Simeon wrote, in “Objection of the poem”: “…cultivate the thickness of the shadows, the rough density of the enigma, and do justice to the opacity of the world…”. This is what Patrice Franceschi does, in his own way, in this tragic and yet exhilarating story, which is played out mainly in the maquis and mountains where Kurdish fighters – those who have fought in terrible conditions against the Daesh jihadists and Turkish auxiliaries – take refuge before the next battle. The plot of the story is simple: a Western journalist, Rachel Casanaova, decides, upon discovering a dual and singular grave in a cemetery in Kobane, the city where the “Kurdish Stalingrad” that saw the Kurdish fighters of Rojava, in northeastern Syria, repel Daesh assaults at the cost of horrific sacrifice and destruction was played out in 2014 for 135 days, to tell the story of the journey and heartbreaking end of two “Yapajas,” Tekoshin and Gulistan. The Yapajas (YPJ) are the female fighters of the “People’s Protection Units” (YPG or “Yapagués”) of the Kurds of Rojava, an area administered autonomously by them, under the authority of the PYD (“Democratic Union Party”, a Syrian Kurdish political party. Patrice Franceschi, a humanitarian who has experienced most of the great calamities since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, explorer, navigator and writer, has long been committed to the Kurds, and particularly, for the last ten years, to those of Rojava, attacked by the Daesh jihadists as well as by Turkey, and fighting without respite for their survival. One feels that he wanted, through this novel, to act (writing is also acting, and Patrice Franceschi says of himself “that he fights with sword and pen”) so that this struggle of Rojava for its freedom does not sink into oblivion.

Patrice Franceschi in Syria with Kurdish fighters.

The Western countries, quite happy that the Kurdish fighters participated decisively in the loss by Daesh of its territory, have moved on, and have not prevented Turkey from invading and “cleaning” part of Rojava… We sometimes forget, in the name of Realpolitik, those who were our allies… But the author, by gradually revealing, through the voice of the journalist whose investigation we follow, the mystery of the commitment and death of Tekochin the Kurd and Gulistan the Yezidi, true “sisters in arms”, pursues a more universal purpose.

By “putting us in the shoes of the other” as he had already done in a previous novel “Un capitaine sans importance” published in 2009, which recounted the war waged in Afghanistan by the Red Army from the point of view of a Soviet officer, Patrice Franceschi makes us share both physically and spiritually the total fight (in the sense that it involves life in its entirety, without turning back) of two warriors of Rojava, and leads us to question ourselves on what makes a life have meaning.

The title of the novel is inspired by a poem by Victor Hugo “Ultime Verba” which speaks of greatness and self-sacrifice. This is Patrice Franceschi’s big concern. How, in an era where the precautionary principle reigns, where comfort and security are the supreme values, can we achieve an authentic and free life, make the world a better place through a commitment that goes beyond the horizon of our own destiny, and this by accepting the risks, by accepting that the trials “expose us as we are in ourselves”? How can we “break the lock that always prevents existence from reaching its fullness, and this at the risk of losing ourselves? It seemed to me, after reading the book, that there were two essential answers. The first is that of the responsibility of our acts; Tekochine the Kurd “refuses to grant the least importance to material objects in order to better worry at each moment about the consequences of her acts”.

Kurdish women fighters in Syria ©Patrice Franceschi.

The second is our attitude towards death: “All the misfortune of men comes from their fear of death. If we drive away this fear, happiness returns”… Tolstoi does not say anything else, in “War and Peace” when he writes “Man is good for nothing as long as he fears death. Everything belongs to the one who is not afraid of it”.

This story by Patrice Franceschi, for whom “perhaps there is no dignity except in combat”, is basically the novelistic counterpart of his “Ethics of the modern samurai”, published in 2019, which was intended to be a manual of combat and exigency for a mediocre era. The novelist’s pen also knows how to abandon the fight to share a suspended moment, as on page 172: “… and everywhere the coolness showed itself the ally of silence so that the flow of time seems the business of another world “… When literature experiences the world…


Pierre Brunet

Writer and humanitarian

Patrice Franceschi, writer and humanitarian : Corsican adventurer, political philosopher, and French writer – Goncourt Prize for short stories 2015 – Patrice Franceschi is also an aviator and sailor. He has always divided his life between writing and adventure. He has multiplied his land, air and sea expeditions throughout the world. He has also led numerous humanitarian missions in war-torn countries, from Bosnia to Somalia, lived among the indigenous peoples of the most remote regions, Papuans, Indians, Pygmies, Nilotics, and has spent many years in the ranks of the Afghan resistance fighting the Soviet army. He has also been an active supporter of the Kurds of Syria on the ground since the beginning of their fight against the Islamic State. His novels, stories, poetry or essays are inseparable from a committed, free and tumultuous existence where he tries to “exhaust the field of the possible”. A reserve officer, he also belongs to the prestigious group of naval writers.

The heroism of the Kurdish women’s battalions fighting against Daech was waiting for its great novel. Here it is.
A Western journalist believes she can investigate with impunity the magnificent destiny of two legendary figures, Tekochin and Gulistan, in order to tell the story of the purity of their cause, the inflexibility of their struggle, and the exceptional circumstances of their deaths in the rubble of a besieged city in ancient Mesopotamia.
But access to the first circle of the clandestine leaders of that war is deserved, and perhaps the truth hidden behind so many incomplete and contradictory accounts can only be revealed by losing oneself in turn: his investigation gradually becomes an initiatory journey, an ascent of the river of memory, a hymn to a freedom whose meaning we have lost by ceasing to be willing to pay the price.
In a landscape of sand and light, S’il n’en reste qu’une is the story of these women confronted with what can be incandescent in the human condition.