ISTANBUL – Hulking ships carrying Ukrainian wheat and other grains await inspections before sailing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul to ports around the world.
When Russia invaded and imposed a naval blockade on Ukraine 10 months ago, the number of ships passing through the narrow strait, which connects Black Sea ports to the wider seas, plummeted. Under diplomatic pressure, Moscow began Allows certain ships to passBut it continues Controls most exports from UkraineAlong with Russia, it once exported a quarter of the world’s wheat.
At the few Ukrainian ports that do operate, Russian missile and drone attacks have periodically disabled grain terminals where wheat and sorghum are loaded onto ships on Ukraine’s energy grid.
The lingering global food crisis has become one of the most far-reaching consequences of Russia’s war, contributing to widespread starvation, poverty and premature death.
The US and allies are scrambling to minimize the damage. U.S. officials are organizing efforts to get Ukrainian farmers to get food from their country through rail and road networks connecting Eastern Europe and ships plying the Danube River.
But as deep winter sets in and Russia presses attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure, the crisis is worsening. Food shortages are already being exacerbated by drought in the Horn of Africa and unusually severe weather in other parts of the world.
The United Nations World Food Program estimates More than 345 million people vulnerable or at risk Severe food insecurityMore than twice as much as in 2019.
“We are now facing a massive food insecurity crisis,” US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said at a summit with African leaders in Washington last month. “This is the result of many things, as we all know, including Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” he said.
Food shortages and high prices are causing severe pain across Africa, Asia and the Americas. US officials are particularly concerned about Afghanistan and Yemen Destroyed by war. Egypt, Lebanon and other major food-importing countries are finding it difficult to service their debts and other expenses because costs have risen. Even in rich countries like America And BritainInflation, fueled in part by the disruptions of war, is insufficient to feed the poor.
“By attacking the world’s breadbasket, Ukraine, Putin is attacking the world’s poor, fueling global hunger when people are already on the brink of starvation,” said Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.
Ukrainians compare events HolotomerWhen Joseph Stalin created a famine in Soviet-ruled Ukraine 90 years ago, it killed millions.
Mr. Blinken announced on December 20. The move is to ensure that companies and institutions do not withhold aid for fear of US sanctions.
State Department officials said it was the most significant change in U.S. sanctions policy in years. The United Nations Security Council adopted a similar resolution on sanctions last month.
But Russia’s deliberate disruption of the global food supply presents an entirely different problem.
Moscow has restricted its own exports, driving up costs elsewhere. More importantly, it has stopped selling fertilizers to the world’s farmers. Before the war, Russia was the largest fertilizer exporter.
Its hostility to Ukraine has also had a major impact. From March to November, Ukraine exported an average of 3.5 million metric tons of grains and oilseeds per month, a steep drop from the five million to seven million metric tons it exported before the war began in February. Data from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture Policy and Food.
That number would be even lower if not for a deal struck in July by the United Nations, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. Black Sea Grain InitiativeRussia agreed to allow exports from three Ukrainian ports.
Russia continues to block seven of the 13 ports used by Ukraine. (Ukraine has 18 ports, but five are in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.) In addition to three on the Black Sea, three operate on the Danube.
The initial contract was only for four months, but was extended for another four months in November. When Russia threatened to leave in October, global food prices rose five to six percent, said Isobel Coleman, USAID’s deputy administrator.
“The consequences of this war are huge, very disruptive,” he said. “Putin is driving millions into poverty.”
While increases in food prices last year were particularly sharp in the Middle East, North Africa and South America, no region was immune.
“You’re seeing price increases of everything from 60 percent in the U.S. to 1,900 percent in Sudan,” said Sarah Menger, chief executive of Gro Intelligence, a site for climate and agricultural data that tracks food prices.
Before the war, food prices had already risen to their highest levels in more than a decade due to supply chains and widespread drought.
The world’s major grain producers, the United States, Brazil and Argentina, have experienced three consecutive years of drought. The level of the Mississippi River dropped so much that ships carrying American grain to ports were temporarily grounded.
Many foreign currencies have weakened against the US dollar, forcing some countries to buy less food on the international market than in previous years.
“There were a lot of structural problems, and then the war made it worse,” Ms Menker said.
US officials say the Russian military Deliberately targeted Destroyed grain storage facilities, a potential war crime, and wheat processing plants in Ukraine.
Many farmers in Ukraine have gone to war or fled their land, and the infrastructure for processing and transporting wheat and sunflower oil to foreign markets has broken down.
At a farm 190 miles south of Kiev, 40 of the 350 employees have joined the army. And the farm is struggling with other deficits. Kees Huinga, a Dutch co-owner, said Russia’s attacks on the energy grid had led to the closure of his farm and a plant that supplied nitrogen fertilizers to others.
As natural gas prices rose as a result of the war, other fertilizer plants in Europe shut down or were forced to cut production last year. Natural gas is important for fertilizer production.
“So this year’s harvest has already been reduced,” Mr. Huizinga said in November. “If the Russians continue like this, next year’s harvest will be even worse.”
He added that transport costs for farmers in Ukraine have risen sharply.
Before the war, farmers shipped 95 percent of the country’s wheat and grain exports via the Black Sea. Mr. Huinga’s farm paid $23 to $24 per ton to transport its produce to ports and ships. Now, the cost has doubled, he said. And an alternative route – by truck to Romania – costs $85 per tonne.
Mr. Huinga said, but he suspects Moscow is provoking action by slowing inspections.
Under this arrangement, every ship leaving one of the three Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea must be inspected upon arrival in Istanbul by joint teams of Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and United Nations officials.
The teams are looking for any unauthorized cargo or crew members, and ships bound for Ukraine must be empty of cargo, said Ismini Balla, a spokeswoman for the UN office overseeing the program.
UN data The rate of inspections has dropped in recent weeks, it has shown. The parties agreed to deploy three teams each day, Ms. Balla said, adding that the United Nations had requested more.
“We hope this will change soon so that Ukrainian ports can once again operate at full capacity,” he said. “Ukrainian exports are an important component in the fight against global food insecurity.”
Ms Balla said the parties’ decision in November to extend the deal contributed to a 2.8 per cent drop in global wheat prices.
In the past six months, food prices have retreated from peaks reached this spring, according to an index compiled by the United Nations. But they are much higher than last years.
One uncertainty for farmers this winter is rising fertilizer prices, one of their biggest expenses.
Farmers have passed on high prices by raising food prices. And many farmers use less fertilizer on their fields. As a result, crop yields will decrease and food prices will increase in the coming years.
Subsistence farms, which produce nearly a third of the world’s food, are even harder hit, Ms. Coleman said.
In a statement released at the end of a November meeting in Bali, Indonesia, the leaders of the 20 countries expressed deep concern about the challenges to global food security and pledged support for international efforts to make food supply chains work. .
“We must strengthen trade cooperation, not weaken it,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the summit.
The U.S. government spends $2 billion a year on global food security, and launched Feed the Future in 2010 after the worst food crisis in 20 countries.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the United States has provided more than $11 billion to address the food crisis. This includes a $100 million program called AGRI-Ukraine, which has helped about 13,000 farmers in Ukraine — 27 percent of the total — access finance, technology, transportation, seeds, fertilizer, bags and mobile storage units, Ms. Coleman said.
These efforts will help rebuild the country while mitigating the global food crisis — one-fifth of Ukraine’s economy is in the agricultural sector, and one-fifth of the country’s labor force is tied to it.
“It is very important for the economy of Ukraine and for the economic life of Ukraine,” he said.
Edward Wong Report from Istanbul and Washington, and Ana Swanson From Washington.