Fragile Global Food Accord at Risk as Russia Considers Halting Grain

Fragile Global Food Accord at Risk as Russia Considers Halting Grain Flow from Ukraine


Concerns are mounting over the possible termination of a United Nations-brokered deal between Russia and Ukraine, raising fears of exacerbating a global food crisis. The accord, negotiated last summer by Turkey and the UN, aimed to alleviate hunger in various parts of the world by allowing the flow of grain from Ukraine to nations grappling with food shortages. However, recent developments indicate that Russia might not extend the agreement, with ships avoiding the war-torn country’s Black Sea ports and food exports dwindling.

Russia, despite exporting record amounts of wheat, claims to face numerous obstacles that hinder the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. This is not the first time Russian officials have threatened to halt the agreement, previously opting for two-month extensions instead of the four-month period outlined in the deal. As Ukraine and Russia serve as major suppliers of essential food commodities like wheat, barley, and vegetable oil to Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, the fragile accord is crucial in maintaining food security in vulnerable regions.

The potential withdrawal of Russia from the agreement would sever a vital source of aid for famine-prone countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, compounding the food security challenges faced by conflict-ridden, economically strained, and drought-affected areas. Moreover, the absence of the agreement would force countries that relied on Ukraine’s grain exports to seek alternative sources, likely turning to Russia. Such a scenario would undoubtedly have implications for global public perception and Russia’s international reputation.

Already, the quantity of grain leaving Ukraine has declined due to Russian interference in joint inspections of ships and a refusal to allow additional vessels to participate in the initiative. Daily inspections, intended to ensure that ships transport only food and not weapons, have plummeted from 11 in October to just over two in June. Consequently, grain exports have also decreased from a peak of 4.2 million metric tons in October to a low of 1.3 million in May, marking the lowest point for the year-old initiative. In June, exports rose to 2 million metric tons as shipment sizes increased.

If the agreement expires, nations that relied on Ukraine for imports will be forced to explore alternative sources, likely turning to Russia. Caitlin Welsh, the director of the Global Food and Water Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, emphasized the impact on Ukraine’s role in global food security and the practical closure of the grain corridor. Urgent negotiations are ongoing between the UN and Russia to preserve the accord, with the UN spokesperson stating that efforts are being made to ensure the continuity of all agreements.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry expressed concern over the practical closure of the grain corridor, emphasizing the country’s significant role in global food security. The ministry revealed that while the final two ships are loading grain destined for Egypt, 29 vessels remain in Turkish waters due to Russia’s refusal to permit inspections. Russia contends that the agreement has not benefited its own exports, attributing obstacles to Western sanctions impeding financing and insurance. However, sanctions do not impact food and fertilizer trade. Russia seeks exemptions from restrictions on the Russian Agricultural Bank and the movement of ammonia, a crucial fertilizer component, through a Ukrainian Black Sea port. Unfortunately, the ammonia pipeline has been damaged during the war, according to the UN.

Russia has experienced a surge in wheat exports, setting all-time highs following a bountiful harvest. Shipments increased from 33 million metric tons in 2021 to 44 million metric tons last year, with an expected 46 million this year, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights. Conversely, Ukraine’s shipments have plummeted by approximately 60%, from 19 million tons in 2021 to an estimated 7 or 8 million tons this year, dealing a significant blow to its agriculture-dependent economy.

Experts predict that even without the Black Sea deal, global wheat stocks remain the same as last year, ensuring an adequate supply. Peter Meyer, head of grain analytics at S&P Global Commodity Insights, believes that any impact on grain prices in the world market would be temporary, as markets quickly adapt and balance themselves out. While Ukraine can still transport food via land or river routes through Europe, their capacity is lower than that of sea shipments and has also caused divisions within the European Union.

The termination of the agreement between Russia and Ukraine, amid already soaring food prices due to COVID-19, conflict, and drought, would exacerbate the challenges faced by developing nations heavily reliant on imported food. These countries struggle with weakening currencies, resulting in high local prices as they pay in US dollars. Shashwat Saraf, the International Rescue Committee’s regional emergency director for East Africa, highlighted the urgency of forging a long-term deal and implementing durable solutions to combat food insecurity, as around 50 million people across East Africa face hunger and a nearly 40% increase in food prices this year.

Contributions to this report were made by AP reporter Daria Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations.

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