Calls on Russia to open Ukrainian ports to prevent ‘catastrophic’ food crisis

Calls on Russia to open Ukrainian ports to prevent ‘catastrophic’ food crisis

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Foreign ministers from the G7 nations called on Russia to open sea export routes for Ukrainian grain and agricultural products, which are vital to feeding the world, as food prices soar and the World Food Program warns of “catastrophic” consequences if Ukrainian ports remain blocked.

“We must not be naive. Russia has now extended the war against Ukraine to many states as a grain war,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said at a press conference on Saturday after the G-7 meetings. “This is not collateral damage, this is an instrument in a hybrid war intended to weaken cohesion against Russia’s war.”

Baerbock, the host of the three-day meeting of senior diplomats in Weissenhaus, Germany, said the group is looking at alternative ways to ship grain out of Ukraine as the threat of a global hunger crisis mounts.

Up to 50 million people will starve in the coming months if Ukrainian grain is not released, Baerbock said, according to the Associated Press. About 28 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukrainian ports blocked by Russian forces.

As the conflict in Ukraine continues, some countries have considered India as an alternative grain source. But after India took steps to expand its agricultural export industry, India on Friday banned wheat exports, citing its own food security concerns.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, it has all but captured the port city of Mariupol, where Russian troops have surrounded the last remaining Ukrainian fighters holed up at the Azovstal Steel Plant.

Russia has also taken control of the Black Sea region of Kherson and fired rockets at the large port city of Odessa, which remains under Ukrainian control. Ukraine closed its ports in late February amid fighting, and Russian warships and floating mines have prevented them from reopening.

The Ukrainian wheat crop that feeds the world must not leave the country

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday that Ukraine is unlikely to have seen such a shutdown of port operations since World War II. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday Ukraine is ready to join talks with Russia to unblock grain shipments, but his government has received “no positive feedback” from officials in Moscow, the AP reported.

David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Program, spoke to US lawmakers and officials from the Biden administration in Washington this week to stress the urgency of reopening ports and addressing the global food crisis.

Ukraine grows enough food annually to feed 400 million people, and 30 percent of the world’s wheat supply comes from Russia and Ukraine, according to the World Food Program.

“Ports are critical to global food security,” Beasley told the Washington Post. “It will be catastrophic if we don’t open up these ports and ship supplies of food around the world.”

Around 3,000 wagonloads of grain are transported on an average working day arrive at Ukrainian ports, where they are stored in silos and shipped across the Black Sea and through the Bosphorus and then around the world in peacetime, Beasley said. With exports blocked, the silos are full – meaning there is no space to store grain from the next harvest, which is due to take place in July and August.

The effects of the lockdown will be felt in both rich and poor countries, Beasley said, and they’re already affecting market volatility. The war has pushed the prices of wheat, cooking oil and other commodities to record highs, and the US Department of Agriculture forecast that global wheat stocks would decline in the next crop year.

Above all, countries in the Middle East and Africa are dependent on Ukrainian grain. According to UN statistics, Egypt gets between 75 and 85 percent of its wheat supply from Ukraine and Russia. More than 60 percent of the wheat imported from Lebanon comes from Ukraine. Somalia and Benin depend on Russia and Ukraine for all of their imported wheat.

The United Nations warns that food insecurity could exacerbate existing conflicts and economic crises in these regions.

Tunisia is one of the countries that see major economic consequences of the war in Ukraine

Operating costs for the World Food Program to support the same number of people have increased by more than $70 million a month, in part due to rising food prices, Beasley said. The program, which provides food aid to 125 million people every day, must continue to cut rations. In Yemen, which has been experiencing an acute hunger crisis for years, the program has already halved the food rations of 8 million people.

“We’re running out of money, pricing is killing us, we’re missing billions and we have to decide now which kids eat, which kids don’t eat, which kids live and which kids die. It’s not right,” Beasley said.

The World Food Programme, which gets half of its wheat from Ukraine, has asked Congress for $5 billion in additional international food aid. An emergency funding package for Ukraine that includes this aid was passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday night, but a Senate vote has been postponed until next week.

Russia this week stepped up missile attacks on Odessa, raising new concerns about the port’s security. In a statement on Saturday, the G-7 foreign ministers called on Russia to “immediately halt its attacks on vital transport infrastructure in Ukraine, including ports.”

Beasley, who was visiting Odessa earlier this month when the city came under attack, said it was encouraging that Russian attacks so far have not targeted the actual port infrastructure there.

Russia, also a major grain producer and the world’s top wheat exporter, will benefit from continuing to disrupt Ukrainian exports. G-7 ministers pledged on Saturday that sanctions against Russia would not affect “essential exports of food and agricultural inputs to developing countries.”

The G-7 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The countries also pledged to increase their contributions to the World Food Program and other aid organizations.

Ukraine has also accused Russia of deliberately attacking Ukrainian grain plants and stealing grain from occupied territories for export. A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed to The Post that Russian attacks had damaged at least six grain storage facilities in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Beasley said he was calling “every friend I know who has any influence on Russia” to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow grain shipments from Ukraine to resume.

G-7 ministers said on Saturday they were looking at other options to get Ukrainian grain to countries in need, including setting up “agricultural solidarity lanes”. The European Commission on Thursday presented a plan to create such transport corridors that would facilitate land transport of Ukrainian grain to Europe.

Trucks and trains can only transport a fraction of the grain normally shipped from Ukraine’s ports, Beasley said. And Russia continues to attack train lines and transport infrastructure across Ukraine. But Baerbock said on Saturday that “every tonne we can haul out goes a little bit to help tackle this hunger crisis,” reported the Financial Times.

“In the situation we are in, every week counts,” Baerbock said.

Victoria Bisset and John Hudson contributed to this report.

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