BREAKUP OF THE SOVIET UNION : West Pledges Food Aid, but Its Distribution Raises Worries : Emergency help: Soviets offer a shopping list designed to avoid famine this winter. Feed grain is needed most.
The Soviet Union has given the United States and its allies a specific list of emergency food aid it will need to avoid a famine this winter, and Western governments have concluded that they can--and will--meet the Soviet needs, Agriculture Secretary Edward R. Madigan has announced.
He declined to provide details about the Soviet request, handed to U.S. Agriculture Department officials now traveling through the Soviet republics to assess the food outlook for the winter.
But European leaders said the Soviets have asked the European Community for $7.25 billion in credits and loans for 5.5 million tons of grain, 800,000 tons of meat and 900,000 tons of sugar. The EC said Thursday it is studying the request seriously.
The new developments marked the first time that Moscow has provided a list of specific food aid needs--and the first time that the Administration has formally committed itself to providing substantial emergency food aid to the Soviets this winter.
Madigan said the Administration is confident that the humanitarian assistance from the United States and Western Europe will provide enough food to prevent shortages of critical items and stave off civil unrest that some fear might spark another attempted coup.
“I feel confident that the needs of the Soviet Union will be met by the West this winter,” Madigan told reporters.
The agriculture secretary said the Administration also is considering dispatching U.S. agricultural experts to be deployed throughout the Soviet Union this winter, apparently to help ease bottlenecks in the distribution system that might keep food from getting to cities.
U.S. officials and Western analysts said that the fact that the Soviets have asked primarily for grain--rather than processed foods that could be sent directly to stores--suggests that they believe their most pressing need this winter will be feed grains for livestock.
Without adequate feed grain supplies, they say, the Soviets might have to speed up their slaughtering of cattle and other livestock, reducing the amount of meat available in Soviet shops later in the winter.
Still, the Western rescue efforts seem likely to be fraught with uncertainties--and staggering obstacles.
Most analysts believe the West is likely to face enormous logistic problems stemming from the Soviets’ legendary transportation bottlenecks and inefficient distribution system, which could make aid difficult to deliver.
While some critics have suggested using military cargo planes to help transport the materials, the Pentagon has been lukewarm to such proposals. Most analysts say that carrying grain shipments by sea would be far more sensible--and less expensive.
Even so, once the food aid landed in Soviet ports, authorities would face massive problems in getting it out to where it is needed. Soviet railroads are badly equipped and in poor shape. The trucking system is inadequate. And storage facilities are badly managed.
Some Western officials question whether, in a country where grain sits rotting in the fields because farmers refuse to sell it for worthless Soviet currency, shiploads of U.S. wheat can really make much difference.
And some Western analysts still aren’t convinced that there is likely to be any food shortage at all--in essence, whether the empty spaces on supermarket shelves this winter may not stem more from the Soviets’ bad distribution system rather than crop failure.
Only last May, a U.S. Agriculture Department team led by Richard T. Crowder, undersecretary for international affairs, visited the Soviet Union and concluded that the Soviets did not have a food shortage but were suffering instead from distribution and pricing problems. On White House orders, Crowder is now in the Soviet Union to update his assessment.
Officials say that any U.S. contribution most likely would be distributed by the Agency for International Development, possibly by contracting with local organizations to help avoid theft and waste.
Further compounding any aid plans is the disintegration of the Soviet Union into independent republics, whose potential rivalries add a tricky political dimension to the process.
Administration officials acknowledge they are concerned that if the United States gives food only to republics that are suffering shortages, that might give the grain-producing republics an added incentive to hold back even more food from the rest of the country.
“Were going to make sure we do it (provide assistance) in a way that doesn’t discourage the development of the food market,” a senior Administration official says.
“The concern is not to provide aid only to the food-deficit republics, because that would encourage those that have surpluses just to hang onto surpluses in the future. What were trying to do is be helpful in the short-term but not perpetuate the problem.”
Moscow’s Grocery List WHAT THE SOVIETS ASK:
European leaders say Moscow has asked for $7.25 billion in food aid, primarily for:
5.5 million tons of grain
800,000 tons of meat
900,000 tons of sugar
350,000 tons of butter
300,000 tons of vegetable fat
300,000 tons of flour
50,000 tons of baby food
30,000 tons of malt
The European Community has surplus food that could meet most of the Soviets’ request. The EC also plans to ask the Group of Seven big industrial nations to assist, a spokesman said. EC surpluses exist in:
Grain, including wheat, barley and rye
Beef and pork
Milk powder (used for baby food)
The EC cannot meet the Soviet request for cooking oil, sugar and flour.
The Soviets want grain rather than food to place immediately on store shelves. This suggests that they want to keep livestock alive longer and delay slaughter of cattle to try to get through the winter.
Western nations face big logistic problems in getting food to where it is needed. The Soviet Union suffers from transportation bottlenecks and an inefficient distribution system.