The European Union is considering using funds initially destined for development projects in Africa to support countries most exposed to the global food crisis caused by the conflict in Ukraine, EU officials and diplomats have said.
Millions of tonnes of grains are stuck in Ukraine, a crucial supplier to many poorer nations, as the country's ports, from where most food is usually exported, are blockaded by Russia.
The provisional plan, which would allow the disbursement of nearly $640 million to boost support to countries most affected by the food emergency, was flagged by the EU Commission in two meetings last week, officials told Reuters.
The Commission said this was a possibility being discussed, but no formal proposal had yet been prepared and backing from all 27 EU governments was required.
The EU largely channels development aid to African, Caribbean and Pacific countries through the European Development Fund (EDF), a facility financed directly by EU governments.
Some of these funds usually go to support agriculture in poorer nations.
However, committed resources are not always used in full, an EU official said.
Deteriorating food supplies
The Commission told EU envoys last Wednesday that $615 million were potentially available under EDF decommitted funds for past years, diplomats said, and that money could be used to address the deteriorating situation in global food supplies.
Some of these unused funds had been re-allocated to bolster security in Africa, but have not been spent.
EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen raised the issue again at a meeting of EU development ministers on Friday, officials told Reuters.
Ministers backed new initiatives to tackle the global food crisis but did not explicitly support to the use of EDF funds, one of the officials familiar with the discussions said.
The EU is already providing emergency financial support to some of its most vulnerable neighbours.
It announced in April $240 million in aid to North Africa and the Middle East. It has a budget of $2.5 billion for the 2021-27 period for sustainable agriculture and nutrition.
The possible additional support is meant to alleviate the global crisis, but is also part of a wider plan to counter what EU officials call Russian propaganda in Africa and other poorer regions, where Moscow is pushing the message that the food crisis is caused by EU sanctions hampering exports from Russia.
An EU diplomat said that Brussels was working together with the United States to boost its fight against "manipulation" of information by the Kremlin, and also by China.
EU leaders at a summit next week will say they want to "enhance solidarity towards the most vulnerable countries and increase local sustainable food production," according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.