Global food crisis looms as Ukraine struggles to export its grain after Russian invasion

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its fourth month, is stopping grain from leaving the “breadbasket of the world” and making food costlier across the globe.

Russian forces’ blockade of Ukrainian ports, destruction and alleged theft of the country’s grains and agricultural machinery, and shells and mines now strewn across its fields are threatening to worsen shortages, hunger and political instability in developing countries.

Weeks of negotiations on secure corridors to get grain out of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have made little progress, with urgency rising because the summer harvest season arrives.

“This must occur in the subsequent couple of months [or] it is going to be horrific,” said Anna Nagurney, a Kyiv School of Economics board member.

Nagurney said that 400 million people worldwide depend on Ukrainian food supplies. 

Together, Russia and Ukraine export nearly a 3rd of the world’s wheat and barley, greater than 70% of its sunflower oil and are outstanding suppliers of corn. Russia is the highest global fertiliser producer.

The war made the already-climbing world food prices skyrocket by stopping some 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain from reaching the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia.

As much as 181 million people in 41 countries could face a food crisis and even outright famine, UN projections show.

Costs go up as Ukraine seeks alternative export routes

Typically, 90% of wheat and other grain from Ukraine’s fields are shipped to world markets by sea. Nonetheless, Russian blockades of the Black Beach have held up a lot of the country’s exports.

Some grain is being rerouted through Europe by rail, road and river, but the quantity is minimal in comparison with sea routes. Moreover, the shipments are running behind because Ukraine’s rail gauges don’t match those of its neighbours to the west.

Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister, Markian Dmytrasevych, asked European Union lawmakers to assist export more grain, including expanding the usage of a Romanian port on the Black Sea, constructing more cargo terminals on the Danube River, and cutting red tape for freight crossing on the Polish border.

But which means food is even farther from people who need it.

“Now you will have to go all the best way around Europe to return back into the Mediterranean. It really has added an incredible amount of cost to Ukrainian grain,” Senior Research Fellow on the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington Joseph Glauber said.

Ukraine has only been in a position to export 1.5 million to 2 million tonnes of grain a month because the war, down from greater than 6 million tonnes, said Glauber, a former chief economist on the US Department of Agriculture.

Russian grain can be not getting out. Moscow argues that Western sanctions on its banking and shipping industries make it inconceivable for Russia to export food and fertiliser, scaring off foreign shipping corporations from carrying it. Russian officials insist sanctions should be lifted to get grain to global markets.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other Western leaders said that sanctions don’t affect food.

Russia rejects ‘abuse’ of naval advantage and accusations of crops destruction, theft

Ukraine has accused Russia of shelling agricultural infrastructure, burning fields, stealing grain and attempting to sell it to Syria after Lebanon and Egypt refused to purchase it. 

Satellite images taken in late May by Maxar Technologies show Russian-flagged ships in a port in Crimea being loaded with grain after which days later docked in Syria with their hatches open.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed Russia provoked a world food crisis. The West agrees, with officials like European Council President Charles Michel and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Russia is weaponising food.

Russia says exports can resume once Ukraine removes mines within the Black Sea and arriving ships might be checked for weapons in an try and prevent Western arms donations from reaching the country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov promised that Moscow wouldn’t “abuse” its naval advantage and would “take all mandatory steps to be sure that the ships can leave there freely.”

Ukrainian and Western officials doubt the pledge. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said this week that it may be possible to create secure corridors without the necessity to clear sea mines because the placement of the explosive devices is thought.

But other questions remain, similar to whether insurers would supply coverage for ships sailing through a warzone.

Dmytrasevych told the EU agriculture ministers this week that the one solution is defeating Russia and unblocking ports. “No other temporary measures, similar to humanitarian corridors, will address the problem,” he said.

‘Catastrophic’ starvation and famine will affect thousands and thousands

Food prices were already rising before the invasion on account of aspects including bad weather and poor harvests cutting supplies, while global demand rebounded strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Glauber cited poor wheat harvests last 12 months within the US and Canada and a drought that hurt soybean yields in Brazil. Also exacerbated by climate change, the Horn of Africa is facing one among its worst droughts in 4 many years, while a record-shattering heat wave in India in March reduced wheat yields.

That, together with soaring costs for fuel and fertiliser, has prevented other big grain-producing countries from filling within the gaps.

Ukraine and Russia mainly export staples to developing countries most vulnerable to cost hikes and shortages.

Countries like Somalia, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt and Sudan rely heavily on wheat, corn and sunflower oil from the 2 warring nations.

“The burden is being shouldered by the very poor,” Glauber said. “That is a humanitarian crisis, absolute confidence.”

Besides the specter of hunger, spiralling food prices risk political instability in such countries. They were one among the causes of the Arab Spring, and there are worries of a repeat.

The governments of developing countries must either let food prices rise or subsidise costs, Glauber said. A moderately prosperous country like Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, can afford to soak up higher food costs, he said.

“For poor countries like Yemen or countries within the Horn of Africa — they’re really going to want humanitarian aid,” he said.

Starvation and famine are plaguing that a part of Africa. Prices for staples like wheat and cooking oil are greater than doubling in some cases, while thousands and thousands of livestock that families use for milk and meat have died. In Sudan and Yemen, the Russia-Ukraine conflict got here on top of years of domestic conflict.

UNICEF warned about an “explosion of kid deaths” if the world focuses only on the war in Ukraine and doesn’t act. UN agencies estimated that greater than 200,000 people in Somalia face “catastrophic hunger and starvation,” roughly 18 million Sudanese could experience acute hunger by September, and 19 million Yemenis face food insecurity this 12 months.

Wheat prices have risen in some countries by as much as 750%.

“Generally, every part has develop into expensive. Be it water, be it food, it’s almost becoming quite inconceivable,” Justus Liku, a food security adviser with the help group CARE, said after visiting Somalia recently.

Liku said a vendor selling cooked food had “no vegetables or animal products. No milk, no meat. The shopkeeper was telling us she’s just there for the sake of being there.”

In Lebanon, bakeries that used to have many kinds of flat bread now only sell basic white pita bread to conserve flour.

A recent IRC report has estimated that an extra 47 million persons are projected to experience acute hunger this 12 months, with countries in Central America and the Caribbean — already affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, increasing conflict and natural disasters — also seeing food prices well above the five-year average.

IRC President David Milliband said that “thousands and thousands are being doubly punished as life-saving supplies are held hostage.”

“The war in Ukraine and its knock-on effects on other humanitarian contexts can’t be underestimated, and are a tragic representation of the system failure of the international community to handle and stop humanitarian suffering,” he said.

Other major human rights and humanitarian NGOs have warned Europe that this might cause a big wave of immigration to the richer countries within the West, especially from countries where residents are liable to violence, conflict and persecution.

Storage capacities also under threat

For weeks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been attempting to secure an agreement to unblock Russian exports of grain and fertiliser and permit Ukraine to ship commodities from the important thing port of Odesa. But progress has been slow.

An unlimited amount of grain is stuck in Ukrainian silos or on farms within the meantime. And there is more coming — Ukraine’s winter wheat harvest is getting underway soon, putting more stress on storage facilities whilst some fields are more likely to go unharvested due to the fighting.

Ukrainian farmers also should contend with unexploded ordnance and mines and risk their lives to do their work.

European countries are working with the US on a plan to construct temporary silos on Ukraine’s borders, including in Poland — an answer that might also address the various rail gauges between Ukraine and Europe.

The concept is that grain might be transferred into the silos after which “into cars in Europe and get it out to the ocean and get it the world over. However it’s taking time,” US President Joe Biden said in a speech Tuesday.

Dmytrasevych said Ukraine’s grain storage capability was reduced by 15 million to 60 million tonnes after Russian troops destroyed silos or occupied sites within the south and east.

Food prices skyrocket

World production of wheat, rice and other grains is anticipated to achieve 2.78 billion tonnes in 2022, down 16 million tonnes from the previous 12 months — the primary decline in 4 years, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, said.

Wheat prices are up 45% in the primary three months of the 12 months compared with 2021, in accordance with the FAO’s wheat price index. Vegetable oil has jumped 41%, while sugar, meat, milk and fish prices also rose by double digits.

The increases are fuelling faster inflation worldwide, making staples costlier and raising costs for restaurant owners, who’ve been forced to extend prices.

Some countries are reacting by attempting to protect domestic supplies. India has restricted sugar and wheat exports, while Malaysia halted exports of live chickens, alarming Singapore, which gets a 3rd of its poultry from its neighbour.

The International Food Policy Research Institute said food shortages growing more acute because the war drags on could lead on to more export restrictions that further push up prices.

One other threat is scarce and expensive fertiliser, meaning fields could possibly be less productive as farmers skimp, said Steve Mathews of Gro Intelligence, an agriculture data and analytics company.

There are especially big shortages of two of the predominant chemicals in fertiliser, of which Russia is a serious supplier, along with Belarus, whose regime can be under Western sanctions on account of President Alexander Lukashenko’s support of the Russian invasion of its neighbour.

“If we proceed to have the shortage of potassium and phosphate that we’ve got immediately, we are going to see falling yields,” Mathews said. “Absolute confidence about it in the approaching years.”


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