OTTAWA – International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said Russia is laying mines on fields in Ukraine to prevent farmers from growing their crops.
Speaking after the meeting of the G7 development ministers in Berlin, Sajjan said Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal had told them that Russian troops were planting mines in the fields to destroy crops.
Russian soldiers also allegedly stole Ukraine’s food stores, reminding Ukrainians of the “terrorist famine” of the 1930s when Stalin demanded Ukraine’s available grain and food.
Traveling to Africa for food security talks, the Minister for International Development said the situation was “catastrophic” and that everything had to be done to help free up Ukraine’s wheat reserves to feed the developing world.
He plans to negotiate with his successor as defense minister, Anita Anand, about sending Canadian experts to help clear Ukrainian fields.
“I will talk to Minister Anand about this and how we and other NATO allies can help clear some of these areas,” he said.
During her visit to Ukraine earlier this month, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said she had received warnings that Russian troops were laying mines in playgrounds, parks and around homes.
In Irpin, a suburb of the capital Kiev, he was told not to get off the sidewalk, as Russian troops had buried a series of mines before retreating.
During a visit to Ukraine with Ms. Joly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will donate $2 million to the HALO Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to demining to help Ukraine.
NDP International Development Critic Heather McPherson, with expertise in demining, says Canada should help make fields in Ukraine safe for farmers to plant and harvest their crops.
In an interview, Sajjan warned that Russia is also spreading misinformation to the developing world, and blamed the West for rising food prices and famines after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
This is deliberate, Sajjan said, to increase President Putin’s influence in Africa and elsewhere.
Speaking during a debate at the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday, Joly claimed that Putin, not Western sanctions on Russia, was responsible for the global food crisis.
Due to climate change, COVID-19 and conflict, he said, “We have made great strides in the fight against hunger in the past decades, but all these gains are coming back.”
The foreign minister said the hunger and humanitarian crises were greater than anything seen in recent years.
“More recently, we have seen how President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine directly accelerated this trend. Let’s be frank: It’s not the sanctions that are to blame, it’s the Russian occupation,” he said.
He said the conflict in Ukraine was “the biggest shock to the already fragile global food systems in the past 12 years”.
By attacking one of the world’s breadbaskets and trying to cut off Ukraine’s economy, Russia is destroying Ukraine’s ability to supply the world with food.” It blocks Ukraine’s ports, displaces farmers and workers, destroys farmland and attacks civilian infrastructure on a large scale. ”
Ukraine is one of the largest grain exporters in the world, but after the Russian occupation it is unable to export grain to its markets, including developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Lebanon, Bangladesh and North African countries are among Ukraine’s biggest customers for wheat, which is the staple food.
Mr Sajjan said Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s port of Odessa would exacerbate global food shortages and there was an urgent need to “remove grain”.
“The whole world, including Africa, needs to send a message to Putin to allow the port to open so that the grain can go out,” he said. He warned that global food shortages could fuel conflict.
Julie Marshall, of the UN World Food Programme, said there have been sharp increases in international prices for staple foods, including wheat and maize, and rising international fuel prices are making the situation worse.
According to the UN, Ukraine and Russia together account for 30% of global wheat exports, 20% of global corn exports and 76% of sunflower supplies.
Joly said earlier this week that Canada is preparing to send its ships to Romanian ports and other European countries to transport Ukrainian wheat to break Putin’s blockade.
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau discussed with her G7 counterparts food aid to the developing world as well as to Ukraine.
But he warned that Canada and the United States had a lower harvest last year due to drought, so grain stocks were below normal.
Mr. Sajjan said that if there isn’t enough wheat, Canada could send other foods, including potatoes and carrots, to countries to help fight hunger.