Russia and Ukraine have signed a landmark agreement with the United Nations and Turkey to resume grain shipments in a bid to ease a global food crisis in which millions face hunger.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed separate but identical agreements with Turkish and UN officials on reopening blocked delivery routes in the Black Sea.
How much grain do Russia and Ukraine export?
More than a quarter of world wheat exports come from Russia and Ukraine.
Russia: the world’s largest wheat exporter
In the early 1980s, corn and wheat accounted for two-thirds of US exports to the USSR. In 1985, the USSR imported a whopping 55 million metric tons of wheat.
Now, Russia has become the world’s largest exporter of wheat. In 2001, it represented only 1% of wheat exports worldwide. That increased to its high of 26.4% in 2018.
Today, Russia ships more than 18% of the world’s supply, followed by the United States (16%), Canada (14%), France (105%) and Ukraine.
Ukraine: fifth largest exporter of wheat in the world
Ukraine is the fifth largest exporter of wheat and accounted for 7% of sales globally in 2019.
Considered the breadbasket of Europe, 71% of Ukraine’s land is agricultural. It is also home to a quarter of the world’s “black soil,” or chernozem, which is highly fertile. Wheat is linked to a painful history in Ukraine.
In 1932, the Holodomor or Great Famine, in which millions of Ukrainians starved to death, was the result of deadly political decisions by Joseph Stalin to collectivize agriculture and confiscate farmers’ land.
The impact of war on supply chains
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused huge increases in the prices of grain, cooking oil, fuel and fertilizers around the world. Part of that is the result of Western sanctions on Russia.
Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of world wheat supplies; Ukraine’s contribution is almost 10%.
In 2019, Ukraine accounted for 16% of the world’s corn supply and 42% of sunflower oil, according to UN data.
The ongoing blockade of Ukraine and grain storage by some countries are contributing to shortages in countries already affected by food insecurity.
Petroc Wilton of the World Food Program in Somalia says the drought in the Horn of Africa is already devastating. “Four consecutive failed rainy seasons. Fifteen million hungry people, rising to 20 by the end of the year,” he said.
What is the grain export agreement?
The deal aims to help stave off famine by pumping more wheat, sunflower oil, fertilizer and other products onto world markets, including for humanitarian needs. His goal is the pre-war level of five million metric tons of grain exported each month.
A joint command and control center will be established in Istanbul, Turkey’s capital, to monitor operations and resolve any disputes. It will be carried out by delegates from the parties involved: a Ukrainian, a Russian, a Turk and a UN representative, who will be assisted by their respective teams.
According to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, the coordination center will be formed in the coming days and will establish the schedule for the rotation of ships in the Black Sea.
“I can’t give you a precise date. But at the latest, it will be resolved in a fortnight, and I think operations can start from then on,” Guterres said Friday.
A possible respite for the food crisis
This agreement is expected to alleviate the severe crisis caused by the Russian naval blockade of Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia, which have triggered the price of fertilizers and energy.
“It will bring relief to developing countries on the brink of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the brink of famine. And it will help stabilize world food prices, which were already at record levels even before the war,” Guterres said. about the importance of the pact.