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Catastrophe averted? Ukraine wheat deal signed

Posted: 22 July 2022 | | No comments yet

The striking of a deal to lift the Black Sea blockade is quite clearly good news, but here Professor Chris Elliott explains just how important the settlement is for global food security.

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The impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has of course been felt by so many within the country itself, but perhaps even more globally due to its impact on food security.

For some time now Ukraine has been known as the breadbasket of the world. The country produces around 20 percent of the world’s high-grade wheat, more than seven percent of all wheat and is the fifth largest exporter of wheat in the world. Possibly the most important statistic of all is that the UN’s World Food Programme buys nearly half of its grain from Ukraine, which is used to feed many millions of hungry men, women and children across the world, particularly in sub–Saharan Africa.

Russia has clearly used food as a weapon in its war and has been systematically destroying farms, stealing crops and blockading the Black Sea ports that export cereals and oils produced in Ukraine.  The impact on global food security is already being felt, with massive price rises and food shortages resulting from the conflict.

While publicly condemnation of Russia is strong, privately world leaders are negotiating to bring an end to the cereal crisis. The UN has been leading on this and the deal broker appears to have been President Erdoğan of Turkey, an ally of Putin but also someone keen not to be seen as supporting his actions in Ukraine.

The deal announced on Friday 22 July means Ukrainian ships will be given safe passage in and out of the ports providing they can be inspected by Russian personnel to ensure they are not carrying weapons. The Ukrainian authorities have agreed to this (albeit reluctantly) and say exports can resume very quickly.

The impact of the resumption of Ukrainian experts of cereals will be huge in terms of reversing current shortages of food globally. But there is even more at stake in the medium to long term. The current wheat harvest in Ukraine should be in full swing, but farmers have been warning that because the massive grain silos in the Ukrainian ports are full, they have no-where to store the new harvest and they may have to leave it to rot.

In addition, planting for the winter crop is due to begin very soon and again farmers are warning that they may decide, or indeed be forced, not to plant wheat and instead grow other crops such as rapeseed that can be processed in the country.  It’s as a result of these factors that the issue of grain storage bottlenecks in Ukrainian ports could have much longer-term repercussions for global food security.

Thankfully, the deal has been reached and the full extent of the catastrophe has been averted. But it will be a deal that will depend on a lot of goodwill and trust – two things severely lacking between these two nations. However, we should still think of what has been announced today as one of the very few good news stores to come out of Ukraine since Russian tanks rolled across the border back in March 2022.

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