The Platform

A Turkish cargo ship loaded with Ukrainian grain at a port in Odesa. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

The first shipment of Ukrainian grain since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February left the port of Odesa under a landmark deal to lift Moscow’s naval blockade in the Black Sea. The 26,527 tons of grain will be delivered to the Port of Tripoli in Lebanon after passing via the Bosporus Strait.

The five-month halt of deliveries from war-torn Ukraine, one of the bread baskets of Europe, has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world’s poorest nations especially hard. On July 22, Ukraine and Russia reached an agreement to allow exports of grain and other agricultural products to resume from selected Ukraine ports after months of a blockade.

The deal comes at a time when storage capacity has reached its limits and global food prices are rising exponentially. “A beacon of hope,” is how UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the agreement. The implementation of the agreement is hoped to bring much-needed stability and relief to global food and energy security. With the mobilization of approximately 20 million tons of grain from the Black Sea, global wheat prices started to see a fall. More than 130 cargo ships loaded with Ukrainian grain are waiting to pass into the Danube and have access to global markets.

The deal, which comes after several weeks of difficult negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv with Ankara and the United Nations as mediators, has a duration of 120 days. Two different agreements are incorporated in the accord to resume exports: one between Russia and Turkey covering food and fertilizer shipments from Russia, and one between Ukraine and Turkey covering grain exports from Ukraine.

The talks come at a time when food prices around the world are hitting record highs due to the conflict in Ukraine. Over the past 30 years, the Black Sea region has emerged as an important global supplier of grains and oilseeds, including vegetable oils. Ukraine ships almost 75% of its agricultural exports through the ports on the Black Sea.

Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visits the Chornomorsk Sea Trade Port. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

Ukraine and Russia are the world’s largest grain suppliers, and on which 30% of wheat exports from more than 30 countries depend. Owing to the Russian blockade, a plethora of wheat was stuck in Ukraine, pushing up global grain prices. Hence, the conflict in Ukraine raises concerns about food security, especially in developing countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and throughout Africa. Not only the developing world but also the West has been devasted by rising food prices. If the Russia-Ukraine grain agreement is put into effect properly, it might lower the cost of basic food staples and fill food shortages in nations that are highly reliant on Ukrainian supplies.

The grain agreement is perceived as a beacon of hope by the world as the agreement could help to alleviate rising food insecurity and global hunger. Russia and Ukraine agreed to restore blocked grain stockpiles to avert a global crisis that has put tens of millions of people, mainly in Africa and the Middle East, at risk of severe hunger and famine. Two significant developments would result from the release of all that grain: it would enhance food supplies for Ukraine’s steadfast consumers and lower costs for necessities by increasing supply.

While Western sanctions were pernicious to Russia, they also increased the price of food and energy globally, which is particularly deleterious to emerging nations. The UN World Food Program estimates that about 4.5 million tons of grain intended for export are still stalled in Ukrainian ports as a result of the conflict. Hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa and elsewhere depend on Ukrainian wheat imports as an essential part of their diets and are contending with high prices.

For neighboring nations who have relied on the food supply network that starts in those Black Sea ports for years, the grain stranded in Ukraine is very significant. For instance, Egypt is still waiting on 300,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat that was scheduled to arrive in February and March. Other Middle Eastern and African nations are also experiencing scarcity, including Lebanon, which imports 60% of its wheat from Ukraine. The loss of Ukrainian grain has had a particularly adverse impact on Somalia, one of Africa’s poorest nations. Before the war, Somalia imported more than half of its wheat from Ukraine.

Meanwhile, allowing Russia to resume fertilizer exports isn’t just a handout to Moscow, it will also help farmers around the world, in countries as far away as Peru, which last year relied on Russia for 70% of its fertilizer supplies. It is hoped that prices will begin to fall if the embargo were to end and those 20 million tons departed Ukrainian ports, increasing access to food for millions of people.

The implementation of this grain agreement is expected to bring about worldwide positive impacts, especially in the food systems. Hence, the deal is a monumental development that has taken place amid the Ukraine crisis which has been a pragmatic decision taken by Russia and Ukraine to resolve the food crisis.

Saume Saptaparna Nath is working as a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She was a former Intern at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Bangladesh. She has completed her graduation and post-graduation from the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka.