By Calvin Chan and Paul Wiesman, AP Business Writers
LONDON (AP) – Russian hostility to Ukraine is preventing grain from leaving the “bread basket of the world” and making food more expensive around the world, threatening to worsen scarcity, hunger and political instability in developing countries.
Together, Russia and Ukraine export about one-third of the world’s wheat and barley, more than 70% of its sunflower oil and a large supplier of maize. Russia is the world’s top producer of fertilizers.
World food prices were already rising, and the war worsened things, preventing nearly 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain from reaching parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia.
Weekly talks on safe corridors to get grain out of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have made little progress, with the need for a summer harvest increasing.
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“It needs to happen in the next couple of months (or) it’s going to be terrible,” said Anna Nagarni, a crisis management student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and on the board of the Kiev School of Economics.
She says 400 million people worldwide depend on Ukrainian food supplies. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has projected that 181 million people in 41 countries will face food crisis or worsening levels of hunger this year.
Here’s a look at the global food crisis:
Normally, 90% of wheat and other grains from Ukraine’s farms are shipped to world markets by sea, but are blocked by Russian blockades along the Black Sea coast.
Some food is transported via Europe by rail, road and river, but this quantity is less in buckets than by sea. Shipping is also backed up because Ukraine’s rail gauges do not match its western neighbors.
Ukraine’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Markian Dimitrasevich called on EU lawmakers to help expand the use of Romanian ports in the Black Sea, build more cargo terminals on the Danube and cut red tape for cargo crossings at the Polish border. .
But that means far more than those who need food.
“Now you have to go around Europe to get back to the Mediterranean. This has really added an incredible cost to Ukrainian grain, “said Joseph Glauber, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
Ukraine has been able to export 1.5 million to 2 million tons of grain a month since the war, less than 6 million tons, said Glauber, a former chief economist at the US Department of Agriculture.
Russian grain is also not coming out. Moscow argues that Western sanctions on its banking and shipping industries make it impossible for Russia to export food and fertilizer and scare foreign shipping companies from carrying it. Russian officials have called for the lifting of sanctions on world markets.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other Western leaders say, however, that sanctions do not affect food.
What do the sides say?
After Lebanon and Egypt refused to buy, Ukraine accused Russia of shelling agricultural infrastructure, burning fields, stealing grain and trying to sell it to Syria. Satellite images taken by Maxer Technologies in late May show Russian-flagged ships in a Crimean port being loaded with grain and then docked in Syria a few days later.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of provoking a global food crisis. Officials in the West, including European Council President Charles Mitchell and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, agree that Russia is using food as a weapon.
Russia says exports could resume once Ukraine clears mines in the Black Sea and arrives to inspect ships for weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed that Moscow would not “abuse” its naval advantage and “take all necessary steps to ensure that ships can leave freely there.”
Ukrainian and Western officials are skeptical of the pledge. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlुतt Cavusoglu said this week that knowing the location of explosive devices could make it possible to build safe corridors without clearing marine mines.
But other questions remain, such as will insurers provide coverage for ships.
Dmytrasevych told EU agriculture ministers this week that the only solution is to defeat Russia and unblock the ports: “No other temporary measures, such as humanitarian corridors, will address this issue.”
Prior to the attack, food prices were rising due to factors including bad weather and poor crop supply, while global demand rebounded sharply from the COVID-19 epidemic.
Glauber cited last year’s poor wheat crop in the United States and Canada and the drought affecting soybean production in Brazil. Also exacerbated by climate change, the Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in four decades, while a record-breaking heat wave in March in India has reduced wheat production.
This, along with rising costs for fuel and fertilizer, has prevented other major grain-producing countries from filling vacancies.
Ukraine and Russia mainly export staples to developing countries that are most at risk for cost overruns and shortages.
Countries such as Somalia, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt and Sudan depend heavily on wheat, maize and sunflower oil from the two warring nations.
“This burden is being borne by the very poor,” said Glauber. “It’s a humanitarian crisis, no question.”
Aside from the threat of famine, rising food prices put political instability at risk in such countries. They were one of the reasons for the Arab Spring, and there are recurring concerns.
Governments in developing countries should either allow food prices to rise or subsidize costs, Glaber said. A moderately prosperous country like Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, could exploit higher food costs, he said.
“For poor countries like Yemen or countries in the Horn of Africa – they really need humanitarian aid,” he said.
Famine and starvation are following that part of Africa. The prices of staples, such as wheat and cooking oil, have more than doubled in some cases, while millions of livestock used by families for milk and meat have died. In Sudan and Yemen, the Russia-Ukraine conflict culminated in years of domestic crisis.
UNICEF warns of war in Ukraine UN agencies estimate that more than 200,000 people in Somalia are facing “catastrophic hunger and starvation”, with about 18 million Sudanese experiencing severe hunger by September and 19 million Yemenis facing food insecurity this year.
In those countries, the price of wheat has risen by 750 percent.
“Generally, everything has become expensive. Whether it’s water or food, it’s becoming almost impossible, “said Justice Liku, a food safety adviser at aid group Care, after a recent visit to Somalia.
Liku told the vendor that “there were no vegetables or animal products. No milk or meat. The shopkeeper was telling us he was just here to stay.”
In Lebanon, bakeries that used to have a wide variety of flatbreads now sell only basic whitebread to preserve pita.
For weeks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been trying to secure an agreement to block Russian exports of grain and fertilizer and allow Ukraine to transport goods from Odessa’s major ports. But progress has been slow.
Meanwhile, large quantities of grain are stuck in Ukrainian silos or farms. And there’s more to come – Ukraine’s winter wheat harvest is fast approaching, with some pressures on storage facilities likely to cause some fields to fail to be harvested and due to fighting.
Serhi Harebtsov is unable to sell grain on his farm in the Donbass region because transport links have been cut. Rare buyers mean prices are so low that farming is not sustainable.
“There are a few options to sell, but it’s just like throwing it away,” he said.
US President Joe Biden has said he is working with European partners on plans to build a temporary silo on Ukraine’s border with Poland, which will also address various rail gauges between Ukraine and Europe.
The idea is that the grain could be transferred to a silo, and then “in Europe to cars and take it to the ocean and around the world. But it takes time,” he said in a speech on Tuesday.
Dmitrysevich said Ukraine’s grain storage capacity had been reduced by 15 million to 60 million tonnes since Russian forces destroyed silo or occupied sites in the south and east.
World production of wheat, rice and other grains is expected to reach 2.78 billion tonnes in 2022, down 16 million tonnes from the previous year – the first decline in four years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Wheat prices rose 45 percent in the first three months of the year compared to the previous year, according to the FAO’s wheat price index. Vegetable oil prices rose 41 percent, while sugar, meat, milk and fish prices rose by double digits.
The rise is fueling rapid inflation globally, making groceries more expensive and increasing costs for restaurant owners who are forced to raise prices.
Some countries are responding by trying to protect domestic supplies. India has banned exports of sugar and wheat, while Malaysia has banned the export of live poultry, worrying Singapore, which receives one-third of its poultry from its neighbors.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has said that if food shortages continue to escalate as the war drags on, more exports will be banned and prices will rise further.
Another threat is rare and expensive fertilizers, which means farms can be less productive because farmers can skip, said Steve Matthews of Grow Intelligence, an agricultural data and analysis company.
There are major shortcomings in the two main chemicals, especially in feces, of which Russia is a major supplier.
“If we continue to have the current shortage of potassium and phosphate, we will see a decline in production,” Mathews said. “There are no questions about it in the coming years.”
Cairoma AP reporter Noah L-Henawi; Cara Anna and Eloise Wiley Kaneja in Nairobi, Kenya; Zeina Karam in Beirut, Lebanon; Edith M. at the United Nations. Ladder; Lorne Cook in Brussels; Darlene Superville in Philadelphia; And Suzanne Fraser, in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.
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