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Halting Ukrainian grain exports risks "starvation and famine," warns Cindy McCain, World Food Programme head

Full interview: Cindy McCain
Full interview: Cindy McCain, World Food Programme executive director 12:21

The head of the World Food Programme, Cindy McCain, warned that "starvation and famine" are real risks for vulnerable populations abroad if Russia doesn't extend an agreement to allow Ukraine to export grain.

The Kremlin said recently there are no grounds to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an agreement that has been key to providing grain to other parts of the world, particularly Africa, as Russia continues its assault on Ukraine. 

"The impact is, again, we're short on grain and what does that mean?" Cindy McCain, executive director of the United Nations' World Food Programme, said to Margaret Brennan on "Face the Nation." "It affects a lot — a large portion of Africa. We're also short on fertilizer; fertilizer is the other half of this that's supposed to be coming out. And so without the fertilizer, in many cases, they're not going to be able to grow crops that are as large or as productive as they could be."

"It's for all the things that are going on, I truly wish that we could end this war so that we could begin, again to feed people around the world, and so that the Ukrainians can also feed themselves," McCain said. "What's at stake here is starvation and famine. That's what we're looking at."

Russia's war on Ukraine isn't the only thing affecting food access globally. Climate change is also affecting crops and therefore people, too — especially in the Sahel region of Africa, which is south of the Sahara and north of the tropical savannas.

"I mean, if you could see what's down there and see the impact that the climate change has had on it," McCain said. "So what we're — what we're doing with regards to the Sahel and other regions, particularly in Africa, is water management, or teaching ancient ways, which are very simple to do. But ways to not only catch water, contain water, but then use water obviously, to grow things."

"And climate change, not just in Africa, or the Sahel, climate change is worldwide," McCain said. "And we're going to be seeing, you know, we're having to manage crops now that they have to be more resilient to drought, our animal feed, and things have to be more resilient, so the animals can be more resistant to drought. There's a lot of things at stake here."

McCain said she'd take anyone in Congress with her to "see what's at stake here." 

The World Food Programme works with all partners who want to give, including China. China gives a small fraction of what the United States does. Last year, the U.S. gave $7.2 billion, more than all other donors combined. Meanwhile, the world's second-largest economy, China, gave $11 million. 

"Well, I'd like to encourage Beijing to get involved and be a part of this, we need not only do we need their funding, but we need their expertise on many things, their technology with regards to agriculture, and their technology with regards to climate change can be very helpful in these countries that are really struggling with drought and lack of food, etcetera," McCain said. "And by the way, I'm so proud of the United States, we're always the first one to step up. And we always do so in a major way."

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