Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Sasha-Ann Simons of WBEZ Chicago

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Chicago, Illinois
August 26, 2022


QUESTION:  The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was in Chicago this week speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

(Video is played.)

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Right now the world is experiencing the worst food security crisis any of us have ever seen. And according to the World Food Program, over 828 million people go to bed hungry every night.

QUESTION:  She addressed issues about food security and other humanitarian issues across the globe and how they connect to similar issues here in Chicago and Illinois, and she’s joining us today. Ambassador, welcome to Reset.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you very much. Delighted to be here.

QUESTION:  In your speech at the Council on Global Affairs, you emphasized how interrelated the world is when it comes to food. Can you just talk about how what might be happening around the world might affect food here in Illinois, in Chicago?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Absolutely. And we have been stressing this issue for quite some time. When I started at the United Nations, I held an event during our presidency on food insecurity, and that happened in February of 2021. But the situation has gotten worse since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, and it’s impacting the globe, but particularly we’re seeing impacts in the United States and even in places like Chicago. So we’re looking at how we can address those issues both globally as well as locally, and so that is part of the reason I’m here in Chicago.

QUESTION:  Yeah, you mentioned Ukraine, Ambassador. Let’s dig into that a little bit more because earlier this week, we marked six months since Russia invaded Ukraine and it’s disrupted wheat exports from the country. So talk more about what impact this has had on global food supply.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  So Russia and Ukraine provided about 20 percent globally of wheat and other food supplies across the world. So countries in Africa, countries in the Middle East, many of them even depended on more than 50 percent of their wheat exports from – imports from Russia. Because of this war, because Russia has blocked the Black Sea, they have attacked grain silos in Ukraine, that wheat is not getting to market. And we have been working diligently within the United Nations, working with the UN to find a way to open up corridors to bring that wheat to market. And most recently, the Secretary-General was instrumental in negotiating a deal with the Russians and the Ukrainians with the assistance of the Turkish Government to open up the Odessa Port in Ukraine so that wheat in Ukraine could get out to the market.

QUESTION:  Is it challenging navigating addressing this issue when Russia is a Permanent Member of the Security Council?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  You said it. It is extraordinarily challenging because as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, you expect that Permanent Member to abide by the UN Charter, to actually have a bit more respect for peace and security, and they clearly have crossed the line. We have to deal with them in the Security Council as a Permanent Member of the Council, but we have not hesitated in finding every way possible to hold them accountable, to condemn their actions, to kick them off of the Human Rights Council, and to constantly, constantly work to find solutions to assist the Ukrainian people in their battle to maintain their sovereignty and their independence.

QUESTION:  You had the chance while here in Chicago to visit the Urban Growers Collective, and that’s a —


QUESTION:  — that’s a nonprofit that runs eight urban farms, many of which are on the South Side of Chicago. Talk to us about your experience there. What was that like?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I was so impressed with what they were doing.  These young people are committed to finding ways to deal with urban hunger, and one of those ways is to provide these urban farms. And I visited the one at Grant Park to see the work that they are doing and the impact that they are having on the communities that they are working with. And what I thought was interesting in that visit was that they started to talk about how they could engage internationally. As you know, they won the COP26 award for their innovative work. And they are looking at how what they do here might be used overseas. And so we’re looking forward to working with them to see how we can use their methodology, their technology to support small farmers living and working in Africa.

QUESTION:  Help us understand the role that you see urban agriculture playing in addressing the food crisis, and how scalable movements like this are.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I think they’re highly scalable, and we have seen some evidence of that in other places around the United States and around the world. We know that many urban areas – and particularly in areas that are depressed – people don’t have access to fresh foods. They don’t have access easily to agricultural products. And I was speaking to one of the young men from the South Side who told me he started watching what they were doing when he was nine years old, and he has been working with them since then, and he is encouraging other young people to look at how they can engage in urban farming so that they can address their needs for fresh fruits and fresh vegetables.

QUESTION:  This is Reset. I’m Sasha-Ann Simons, and I’m speaking with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who’s visiting Chicago this week and who recently spoke at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Ambassador, something that you mentioned during your talk was the role that climate change plays here. How will a changing climate affect food security and what policies do you think can help address that?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Look, climate has already had a detrimental effect on food security. We are seeing across the world that climatic changes are changing farming patterns. Climatic changes are forcing mass migrations, so we’re hearing for the first time about climatic refugees. We’re seeing conflict that has resulted from herders moving further and further south and encroaching on farmland.

So it is certainly having an impact and it’s something that we’re working on and is a high priority for the Biden administration as we re-engage with the Paris – we rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, and we’re working with countries to help these countries start to address the impact of climate but also re-up their own commitments to addressing climate change. Because government policies also impact how governments are able to respond to the needs of their people, and we’re certainly working with those governments to ensure that they are committed to finding solutions to climate changes in their own countries.

QUESTION:  Let’s turn to China for a moment, Ambassador. They’re also part of the Security Council at the UN. What would you like to see China do to begin addressing issues around food security?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Well, China is a huge, huge purchaser of wheat, and what they have been doing over the course of the past few months is building up their stockpiles instead of contributing to more – to address the problems that other countries are facing. We think they can make a difference, they can contribute, and we would encourage the Chinese to do just that. Looking at the World Food Program, for example, the major humanitarian UN agency responsible for providing food, the U.S. has given about $3.7 billion to the World Food Program; China has given about $3.5 million. We think they can do more and we are encouraging them to do more in that – in that sphere.

QUESTION:  And while I have you, I just want to get your thoughts on a couple more things before I let you go, Ambassador. Here in the Chicagoland area, we’re plagued by food deserts, okay. Many neighborhoods here don’t have easy access to grocery stores, for instance. Does the Biden administration have any plans for how to get more produce and healthy food into underserved communities?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Certainly, that is a priority, and I know that the Department of Agriculture and other agencies in the government are working to address these issues. We support, for example, the urban farming that I was so delighted to see yesterday, and look – and we’re looking for other opportunities to engage with communities, encouraging businesses to provide more produce in what are called these urban deserts and to encourage people to, again, participate in these urban farms. I am not in a food desert in Virginia where I live, but we actually have our own little urban garden that provides more food that – more food than we can consume ourselves. So it actually does work and it’s something that I would encourage others to consider.

QUESTION:  Yeah. Well, this topic is near and dear to our hearts here. Illinois is a significant exporter of food and agriculture is, of course, a large part of the economy in this state. Sum it up for us, Ambassador. In your mind, what is the state of U.S. agriculture and what more needs to be done to improve food security here as well as abroad?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Look, we are a huge producer of food here in the United States, and we are working through the Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to start to produce more food. The President just gave $500 million to help producers of fertilizer increase the production of fertilizer. But we’re also looking at how these farmers can export more of the products that they produce globally. I’m from Louisiana, and I know that Louisiana is a huge producer of rice and they export rice all over the world. And again, you mentioned Illinois is a huge agricultural productive state —


AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  — and that you also export. So there are programs that the Biden administration is very committed to to support farmers, to engage with not just large farming programs but small farmers as well.

QUESTION:  That was U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Thank you so much for making the time for us, Ambassador.