U.N. to Keep Beasley at WFP as Food Crises Roil the World

The head of the United Nations’ top food agency will get a job extension now that Russia’s invasion has put food security at risk for millions.

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.
World Food Program Chief David Beasley
World Food Program Chief David Beasley
World Food Program Chief David Beasley speaks during an interview in Rome on Oct. 9, 2020. Gregorio Borgia/AP

David Beasley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina who heads the World Food Program, will stay on the job for another year, according to three well-placed diplomatic sources.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has decided to extend Beasley’s five-year term, which was set to expire early next month, to avoid a leadership transition at a time of unprecedented global food crises. The extension will have to be approved by the Chinese director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Qu Dongyu.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine last month has massively disrupted global agriculture markets, with aftershocks expected to continue for months. Ukraine, alongside Russia, accounts for 30 percent of global wheat exports and is the largest supplier of food commodities for WFP. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa—especially Yemen and Lebanon—are set to bear the brunt of the fallout of more expensive and scarcer food staples.

David Beasley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina who heads the World Food Program, will stay on the job for another year, according to three well-placed diplomatic sources.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has decided to extend Beasley’s five-year term, which was set to expire early next month, to avoid a leadership transition at a time of unprecedented global food crises. The extension will have to be approved by the Chinese director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Qu Dongyu.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine last month has massively disrupted global agriculture markets, with aftershocks expected to continue for months. Ukraine, alongside Russia, accounts for 30 percent of global wheat exports and is the largest supplier of food commodities for WFP. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa—especially Yemen and Lebanon—are set to bear the brunt of the fallout of more expensive and scarcer food staples.

The top U.N. food job is customarily given to a political appointee privately recommended by the United States, which is the agency’s largest donor. The United States, according to two diplomatic sources, has signed off on the extension.

The South Carolina native, and onetime Democrat was appointed jointly by Guterres and the director general of the Food and Agricultural Organization as executive director of the Rome-based food agency in late March 2017, and he assumed the role early the following month. His candidacy, which was supported by then-U.S. President Donald Trump, had been championed by Nikki Haley, an influential South Carolina politician who served at the time as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Beasley also maintained close ties to other influential South Carolina politicians, including Sen. Lindsey Graham and the then-White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, which helped him secure funding for the food agency at a time when the administration was seeking to dramatically roll back funding for U.N. agencies.

During his term at WFP, Beasley has proved to be a highly visible salesman for the organization, documenting his world travels on Twitter and making frequent appearances on international news programs. He has also developed a sprawling network of foreign dignitaries, officials, and world leaders, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, through personal invitations to his South Carolina farm, Christian activism, and promoting business opportunities.

Beasley declined to comment. A WFP spokesperson, Greg Barrow, also declined to comment on Beasley’s future with the U.N. But he noted that Ukraine had emerged as WFP’s largest supplier of food commodities, providing 789,000 metric tons of wheat grain to the food agency in 2021 and an additional 91,000 metric tons of split peas.

“WFP has alternative sources from the international market should there be a disruption,” he said, noting that any potential impacts from the crisis would take time to impact the agency’s operations. “However, we do expect price increases due to conflict as both Ukraine and Russia are large food exporters.”

Russia’s war in Ukraine has not just disrupted spring planting and closed export markets of two major grain exporters. It has also led to secondary shocks that could wreak further havoc on agricultural markets, including Russian limits on fertilizer exports (a major source of world supply) and higher energy prices, which make it harder for other countries to produce fertilizer. Experts fear widespread price increases and food insecurity, especially in vulnerable countries, in the months to come.

WFP’s Barrow said that with “food prices already at an all-time high, and oil process skyrocketing,” WFP transport costs are going to spike. “The gulf between our funding needs and available resources will continue to widen,” he added. “This could be a catastrophic situation for millions of families who rely on WFP for food assistance.”

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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