UN hopes to restore Ukraine grain exports amid global food crisis

UN chief Guterres says he is in talks with multiple partners to take action before food, energy and economic crises in poor countries worsen.

A private Ukrainian farmer Dmytro Hnatkevitch harvests wheat crop on his farm in the village of Grygorovka, Ukraine
A Ukrainian farmer harvests wheat in the village of Grygorovka south of the capital Kyiv [File: Efrem Lukatsky/AP]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he is in “intense contact” with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the United States, and the European Union in an effort to restore Ukrainian grain exports as a global food crisis worsens.

“I am hopeful but there is still a way to go,” said Guterres, who visited Moscow and Kyiv late last month. “The complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides.”

Addressing a food security meeting at the United Nations hosted by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, Guterres appealed to Russia to allow “the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports”, and for Russian food and fertilisers to “have full and unrestricted access to world markets”.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser to soar, and Guterres warned that this will worsen food, energy and economic crises in poor countries.

“It threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine in a crisis that could last for years,” Guterres said.

‘If you have any heart’

Ukraine used to export most of its goods through seaports but since Russia’s February 24 invasion, it has been forced to export by train or via its small Danube River ports.

UN food chief David Beasley appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “If you have any heart at all, please open these ports.”

Beasley heads the World Food Programme, which feeds some 125 million people and buys 50 percent of its grain from Ukraine.

“This is not just about Ukraine. This is about the poorest of the poor who are on the brink of starvation as we speak,” Beasley said.

Before Russia’s invasion of its neighbour in February, Ukraine was seen as the world’s breadbasket, exporting 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports – 12 percent of the planet’s wheat.

Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly one-third of global wheat supplies. Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus – which has backed Moscow in its war in Ukraine – account for more than 40 percent of global export of potash, a crop nutrient.

Corridors needed

Blinken said Russia must be compelled to create corridors so food and other vital supplies can safely leave Ukraine by land or sea.

“There are an estimated 22 million tonnes of grain sitting in silos in Ukraine right now. Food that could immediately go towards helping those in need if it can simply get out of the country,” Blinken said.

The UN says 36 countries count on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, including some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

Guterres spoke with Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov on Tuesday about Russian exports of fertilisers and grains, according to Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.

“The discussions, as far as I know, went well and positive,” Nebenzia told reporters on Wednesday, but he signalled that Ukrainian access to international markets was a separate issue.

“We are prepared to do our share. The Ukrainian grain market access, that’s another thing.”

Nebenzia said while there were no direct sanctions on Russian fertilisers or grains, there had been a chilling effect on shipping, insurance and banking after the US and others began punishing Russia over what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Blinken said it was “false” to blame sanctions because the US had created exceptions and was working to ensure measures imposed by Washington “are not preventing food or fertiliser from leaving Russia or anywhere else”.

Source: News Agencies