Food Crisis: Millions of Tons of Grain Stuck in Ukraine as Russia’s War Blocks Exports

A farmer drives his tractor as he sows oats in a field east of Kyiv on April 16, 2022. - R
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While Russia’s intensification of its war against Ukraine is disrupting food production, the product that has already been harvested can’t even be exported, a United Nations director has warned, claiming there are millions of tons of grain in the country “just sitting there”.

Regional director of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, Germany-based Martin Frick has said there are as much as four and a half million tons of grain just sitting at Ukrainian ports waiting to be exported. In comments reported by The Guardian, UN man Frick said: “None of the grain can be used right now. It is just sitting there… The world urgently needs these items of food from Ukraine.”

Though a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian refugees coming out of regions impacted by war and for humanitarian aid to get in are frequently discussed, Frick says there should also be a humanitarian corridor put in place for Ukraine’s enormous agricultural output to get to the rest of the world. He said, in comments reported by the Augsburger Allgemeine: “We demand… the grain trade routes remain open despite the Ukraine war.”

Frick said that in all, some 20 million tons of grain has been blocked from leaving Ukraine so far this year. For comparison, the Guardian report claims that a combined 55 million tons of corn and wheat were harvested in Ukraine in 2020.

Grain cannot be exported from Ukraine because the typical method of moving the huge bulk of the product — by bulk carrier ship from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports — has been rendered impossible by the intensification of hostilities by Russia this year. Replacing ships with overland trucking is deeply impractical exactly because of that bulk, as a single ship can replace tens of hundreds of trucks.

Ukraine is a major global producer of several food and agricultural products and the combination of disruption of its exports, as well as boycotts of Russia’s own production, have led to major warnings of an impending global food crisis as available stocks dwindle in the coming months.

One of Russia’s earliest moves in its intensification of hostilities against Ukraine this year — ongoing since 2014 — was moving to cut the country off from its sea lanes of communication. Several merchant ships have been sunk or damaged in the Black Sea this year, including bulk carriers of the kind used to export wheat and grains to the world, with claims of bombs, missiles, and even sea mines being used to take civilian merchant craft down.

The fact that food cannot get out of Ukraine, Frick said, is exacerbating a “global hunger crisis” already intensified by years of coronavirus lockdowns. “This food is extremely important for supplying the population, especially in Africa or the Middle East,” he said.

Frick also cited his boss in a social media post, in which the World Food Programme global chief said of the food trapped in Ukraine: “We have to open up these ports. We have to open them up and protect them so that food can move in and out of this country for the rest of the world. It’s a humanitarian need, the rest of the world demands it, we have to have those ports open. We have to!”

Frick implored that “Hunger doesn’t have to be a weapon”, Newsweek reports. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that Russia does appear to be weaponising food in Ukraine. Besides actively blocking the export of food from Ukraine, there have also been widespread claims of Russia deliberately bombing grain silos — the huge facilities which can store whole harvests.

Were that not enough, there are also claims that Russia is carrying off Ukrainian grains as war booty in great convoys going north. Radio Free Europe cited Ukrainian government deputy agriculture minister Taras Vysotskiy’s words when he said “there are confirmed facts that several hundred thousand tons of grain in total were taken out of the Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions.”

Vysotskiy’s boss, minister Mykola Solskiy made similar remarks, saying of the theft of grain: “I personally hear this from many silo owners in the occupied territory. This is outright robbery. And this is happening everywhere in occupied territory… There will soon be a wheat harvest in the south. But farmers in this situation may well say: ‘Here are the keys to the tractor — go collect it yourself, if you want’.”


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