When Russia recently announced that it was suspending its involvement in the Black Sea Grain Initiative and blocking Ukrainian exports, it was not unexpected. But the decision could have far-reaching implications around the globe for months to come.
The agreement, which has allowed Ukraine to ship grain and other commodities from its Black Sea ports, was due to run out in the second half of November. However, there was an option to extend the deal if all parties, including Russian, Ukraine, Turkiye and others agreed.
The United Nations estimates the Black Sea Grain Initiative has saved 100 million people globally from extreme poverty.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, the U.N. reported that mountains of grain had built up in silos and with ships unable to secure safe passage from Ukrainian ports land and rail routes were unable to make up the bulk of the difference.
“This contributed to vertiginous rises in the price of staple foods around the world. Combined with increases in the cost of energy, developing countries were pushed to the brink of debt default and increasing numbers of people found themselves on the brink of famine,” the U.N. said.
Russia justified its decision to pull out of the deal by citing an attack on its fleet near Crimea that it blamed on Ukraine and Great Britain.
“Due to the actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, led by British specialists, the Russian side cannot guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the ‘Black Sea Initiative,’ and suspends its implementation for an indefinite period,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
But two weeks earlier, Ukrainian sources were already speculating that the Russians would pull out of the deal.
Indiana farmer Kip Tom toured farms, cities, and the port of Odesa two weeks ago as part of a humanitarian effort. He’s seen his share of war-torn and hunger-ravaged countries in the past—serving as the United States ambassador to the U.N.’s agencies for food and agriculture, and chief of the United States Mission to the U.N. agencies in Rome, from 2019 to 2021.
In Ukraine, Tom said he would see these large grain complexes next to rail lines about every 30 kilometers, but because of the bombings, there was no rail activity—only truck. Tom said there is a prevailing feeling among officials he talked to that the Black Sea grain deal between Ukraine, Russia and Turkiye would not be renewed in November.
As of two weeks ago, “we know they have exported about 7 million metric tons of grain of the estimated remaining 25 mmt to be exported following the relaunch of the Black Sea Shipping Lanes out to countries in need—primarily in Africa. At least another dozen ships were allowed to move since that time, according to various news reports.
He said over 100 of these ships were in the queue for inspections to assure they are hauling grain before being allowed to pass through the channel in Istanbul, Turkiye, onto their destinations.
Farmers across Ukraine—who produce sunflowers, corn, soybeans, canola, barley and wheat—are moving as much grain as possible to make room for the current harvest and to generate cash to meet their financial obligations. Without the cash from their grain sales, they’ll be unable to access credit to plant for the following year.
“The spirit of the Ukrainian leaders is very strong, but (Russian president) Putin’s current strategy of bombing infrastructure like energy facilities is making it difficult to process grain and keep farming,” Tom told Agri-Pulse. He talked to a farmer who has been rebuilding a war-damaged corn starch plant that was located next to an electrical sub-station. A day later, he called to tell Tom that the starch plant was on fire after the sub-station was targeted by Russian missiles.
Since that time, Russian missiles have continued to bomb civilian targets and infrastructure in Ukraine, aiming to knock down electrical transmission and water supply lines.
In a statement, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for an extension of the Black Sea grain agreement, saying it was also critical to ensuring that farmers have access to the fertilizer they need for coming crops.
“If food and fertilizers do not reach global markets now, farmers will not have fertilizers at the right time and at a price they can afford as the planting season begins, endangering crops in all regions of the world in 2023 and 2024, with dramatic effect on food production and food prices worldwide. The current crisis of affordability will turn into a crisis of availability,” the spokesman said.
Responding to Russia’s recent announcement, Ukraine Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said in a tweet, “Russia continues torpedoing the Black Sea grain corridor, undermining global food security.
“We call on countries that rely on grain exports—in Africa, Middle East and Asia, to send a clear signal to Moscow that taking millions of people hostage to its hunger games is unacceptable.”
Despite all of the sanctions and calls for Moscow to stop the invasion and bombing, there does not seem to be any cease fire in the works anytime soon, which leads many to wonder how long people in both the U.S. and countries around the globe will remain steadfast in their commitment to help.”
For Tom, it was difficult to see the suffering across Ukraine, but the resolve he witnessed from Ukrainian farmers made him even more convinced that the global community needs to continue to help.
Tom said he came away with a very “unique perspective” from his week in Ukraine and “now we need to move on what we learned and find solutions before the situation becomes worse.
“The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are getting lower, food and water are scarce, electricity is not available, home heating is not available and the Russians are moving towards more families in Ukraine,” he added.
Editor’s note: Sara Wyant is publisher of Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc., www.Agri-Pulse.com.