Block mountains

“Mountains” of grain risk being wasted if Russia continues to block Ukrainian ports

The Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports increasingly threatens the food security of millions of people around the world.

It is becoming increasingly clear that ports in the Odessa region of southern Ukraine urgently need to be reopened to avert a global food crisis.

On May 10, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the international community to take immediate action to end Russia’s blockade of his country’s ports to allow wheat shipments and prevent a global food crisis.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and corn.

After the Black Sea port of Odessa was hit by missiles, Zelensky said: “For the first time in decades there is no usual movement of the merchant fleet, no usual port is functioning in Odessa. This has probably never happened in Odessa since World War II.

“Without our agricultural exports, dozens of countries in different parts of the world are already on the brink of food shortage,” he added. “And over time, the situation can become downright terrible. This is a direct consequence of Russian aggression, which can only be overcome together – by all Europeans, by the entire free world.

Zelensky’s call for an end to the blockade of Odessa came just days after the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) issued a similar call, saying only the reopening of Ukrainian ports could avert the looming threat of famine.

The silos are full

The WFP said the move would allow food produced in the war-torn country to flow freely to the rest of the world and prevent “mountains” of grain from being wasted.

“Right now the grain silos in Ukraine are full. At the same time, 44 million people around the world are heading towards starvation. We need to open these ports so that food can flow in and out of Ukraine. The world demands it because hundreds of millions of people around the world depend on these supplies,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.

“We are running out of time and the cost of inaction will be higher than anyone can imagine. I urge all concerned to allow this food to flow out of Ukraine to where it is desperately needed so that we can avert the looming threat of famine.

European Council President Charles Michel, who visited Odessa earlier this week, also reported seeing silos full of grain, wheat and maize unable to be exported.

“This much-needed food is blocked because of the Russian war and the blockade of Black Sea ports, with dire consequences for vulnerable countries,” he said. “We need a global response.”

According to the WFP, unless the ports reopen, Ukrainian farmers will have nowhere to store the next harvest in July and August.

“The result will be mountains of wasted grain as the WFP and the world struggle to address an already catastrophic global hunger crisis,” the agency said.

The WFP says some 276 million people worldwide were already facing acute hunger at the start of the year. That number could rise to 47 million if the war continues, with the steepest increases in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rising food prices

Prior to Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, most food produced in the country was exported through the country’s seven Black Sea ports. More than 50 million metric tons of grain passed through ports in the eight months before the war began, and exports were enough to feed 400 million people.

The disruption caused by the war has already pushed food prices well above the record highs reached earlier this year. In March, wheat and maize export prices increased by 22% and 20%, respectively, on top of strong increases in 2021 and early 2022.

Kyiv has started to route some of its main exports through the Romanian port of Constanţa, mainly agricultural products, but the port’s congestion, as well as the incompatibility of Ukrainian and Romanian rail gauges, has limited the amount of goods transiting through Constanţa.

Last month, the Romanian government announced plans to “rapidly” rehabilitate a (Ukrainian) broad gauge railway line running from Ukraine through the Republic of Moldova to another of the country’s ports, Galați , but did not specify a timeline.

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