Ukraine is a leading exporter of grains such as wheat and corn, accounting for 12% and 17% of the global supply, respectively, and there are millions of tons of the product stuck in the war-torn Eastern European country.
The Russian military has captured Ukraine’s four Black and Azov seaports, with the Ukrainian agriculture ministry announcing their closures on Monday.
“The adoption of this measure is caused by the impossibility of servicing ships and passengers, carrying out cargo, transport and other related economic activities, ensuring the appropriate level of safety of navigation,” the ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned of a food crisis, the news agency reported, saying Ukraine could lose tens of millions of tons of grain.
“Russia does not let ships come in or go out, it is controlling the Black Sea,” Zelenskiy told the Australian news program 60 Minutes. “Russia wants to completely block our country’s economy.”
The implications extend beyond Ukraine.
“Currently, almost 4.5 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukrainian ports and on ships and cannot be used,” Martin Frick, the German director of the UN World Food Program told German news agency DPA. “Ukraine’s food is urgently needed in the world.”
Frick also said the blocking of the Ukrainian shipments could exacerbate a “global food crisis.”
“None of the grain can be used right now. It is just sitting there,” he told DPA.
NATO said in a statement late last week that “drifting mines” have been found and deactivated in the western Black Sea by other coastal nations, adding that the “threat of collateral damage or direct hits on civilian shipping in the War Risk Area of the Black Sea area remains HIGH.”
For added context on the role Ukraine plays in helping feed the world, about 30 million tons of corn and about 25 million tons of wheat were harvested there in 2020, according to the United Nations.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the World Food Program has “had to provide 2.5 million Ukrainians with food support – the majority of them in Ukraine, as well as several hundred thousand in neighboring Moldova,” The Guardian reported, this being in spite of the abundance of crops available in Ukraine.
“Foodstuffs have to reach those in Ukraine who are trapped and in need. But at the same time there is the need to provide other parts of the world with foodstuffs they are expecting from Ukraine, in order to alleviate a global food crisis,” Frick said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned of the very likely probability of a global food crisis, as well, while addressing protesters opposed to providing Ukraine with weaponry.
“This war will have consequences, consequences across the world,” Scholz said on Sunday, according to the Guardian. “Right now we must concern ourselves with the fact that there are some people who will starve, that there are countries which will be unable to afford grain for their people, and that this whole war situation could lead to a global hunger crisis.”
There is an effort underway to establish a grain bridge involving Ukrainian Railways and the national rail operators of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, that would ensure a network of interconnected routes across Europe, the U.K. newspaper reported.
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