Despite the July 22 agreement reached on the export of grain from Ukrainian ports to the rest of the world, the supply of grain to the world remains uncertain.
About 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain intended for export are currently blockaded by
Russia. President Zelenskiy has said that even with the decrease in harvest size, this
figure may increase to 75 million tons in the autumn, leading to skyrocketing food prices
and shortages in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Laura Wellesley, a food security expert at the Chatham House think tank, suggests that
about 30% of the 86 million tons of the grain that Ukraine normally produces will not be
Ukraine is the fourth largest grain exporter in the world, usually producing 42% of the
world’s sunflower oil production, 16% of corn, and 9% of wheat. The largest Ukrainian
wheat importers are Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Yemen, Philippines, Morocco,
Tunisia, Libya, and Ethiopia
Wheat exports from Russia, the world’s largest exporter, are also decreasing. Western
sanctions do not apply to Russian agriculture and access to EU ports is not blocked for
Russian vessels transporting agricultural products. However, the Kremlin insists that
Russian exports are being hindered by rising insurance rates and payment terms.
African Continent Hardest Hit
According to the African Development Bank, Ukraine and Russia usually supply more than 40% of Africa’s wheat imports. The war has led to a shortfall of 30 million tons of food in Africa and this has led to a 40% increase in food prices across the continent.
For example, in Nigeria, the prices of basic products have increased by 50%. In Yemen, in the period from January to May, prices for flour increased by 42%, and for bread – by 25%.
In Syria, bread prices have doubled
Laura Wellesley suggests that significant disruptions in grain exports from Ukraine could mean that some countries in the Middle East and Africa will face deficits.
“This will further increase the price of bread in these countries, which will cause serious
social unrest,” she says.
The Much Hoped-for “Sea Corridor” Agreement
Wheat prices did fall after news of the deal on July 22 in which Russia and Ukraine signed “mirror agreements” with the UN and Turkey on the opening of a “sea corridor” in the Black Sea. According to official data, under the agreement, Russia will maintain a truce while Ukrainian cargoes of grain move through the mined waters of the port. To allay fears of arms smuggling, Turkey would carry out inspections of the ships. Russian export of grain and fertilizers through the Black Sea is also allowed. However, on July 23, the day after the signing of the grain agreement, Russia launched missiles at the Odesa seaport — 2 missiles were shot down by the air defense forces, 2 more hit port infrastructure facilities.
Yuriy Ignat, spokesperson for the Air Force Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said that the Russians struck the Odesa seaport at the exact point where the grain was stored. The following day, the spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, admitted that Russia had carried out the missile attack on the Odesa port, justifying it by saying that the missiles had “Destroyed military infrastructure of the Odesa port, with a high-precision strike…”
The UN said that Russia had not violated the agreement by launching a missile attack on
the port of Odesa, since it had not undertaken to refrain from attacks on those parts of
Ukrainian ports that are not directly involved in the export of grain if there is a military
Alternative Export Routes
Before the war, Ukraine shipped more than 90% of its food exports by sea. With its ports
now blocked, grain is exported via a land corridor, using trucks and trains.
The EU is assisting by establishing “solidarity routes” so that Ukrainian grain can be sent
from ports on the Baltic Sea. However, Ukraine’s rail tracks are wider than those in the rest of Europe, so grain has to be unloaded at the border and reloaded into others rail trucks.
It takes three weeks for the grain to cross Europe and reach the Baltic ports.
Currently, according to the Ukrainian Grain Association, only 1.5 million tons of grain are exported per month, in comparison with the pre-war figure of 7 million tons per month.
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