Opinion: Russia’s war against Ukraine is a real threat to global food security

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Russia’s war on Ukraine is the main cause of a global food crisis that could bring serious political and economic consequences.

Ukraine has become one of the biggest suppliers of foods to the world. Its exports include items such as sunflower oil, wheat, and corn for low-income countries as well as for international development organizations.

Ukraine had a record-breaking grain harvest last year – collecting 107 million metric tons.

Ukraine’s exports comprise more than 10% of all wheat, 14% of all corn, and 47% of all sunflower oil in the world.

Experts emphasize that more than 400 million people in the world depend on grain supplies from Ukraine. The population of most of these countries traditionally suffers from food shortages and even hunger.

The war in Ukraine poses a threat to global food security, which is particularly acute today in some of the African, Middle East, and Asian countries, which are the main buyers of wheat and corn on the world markets.

Russia’s attack has changed the world’s food supply chains.

Products that Ukraine will not be able to deliver to the world market may provoke a chain reaction: developed countries are increasing their stocks, and many countries are limiting trade in the background of uncertainty.

As a result, prices are rising even more and the risk of hunger in poorer countries is rising.

The war has affected about 25% of the world cereal trade and has caused an increase in world prices, food inflation, and reduced access to food in the countries that import food from Ukraine.

Due to the war, Ukraine has lost about 20% of the sown area this year (territory is occupied or under hostilities) – about 13.5 million hectares that were used for the spring sowing campaign (in 2021 – 16.9 million hectares).

Ukraine and Ukrainian farmers are ready to fulfill their obligations in supplying grain and other agriculture products to the world market as soon as our seaports are unblocked and free to navigate.

Logistics is the key issue for Ukrainian traders to export grain and oilseeds.

Ukraine’s aim is to continue its exports according to its international obligations.

Before the war, Ukraine exported 5-6 million metric tons of agricultural products on monthly basis; 90% of this volume was exported from seaports in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea.

Currently, the traditional logistics chains are broken. Ukraine has already adjusted new logistics routes to supply grain to the world market by trucks, railway, and river transport.

However, at this rate, it would take years to export the current grain stockpile in addition to a new harvest arrival unless the military situation on the Black Sea rapidly improves.

Grain exports from Ukraine have been suspended through the blockade of the ports by Russian warships. Currently, Russia is blocking around 40 commercial vessels loaded with agricultural commodities in the Black Sea (around 1 million metric tons of grain, corn and oilseeds).

Due to the armed aggression of the Russian Federation, the temporary occupation of territories, and the blocking of seaports, by the end of October 2022, Ukraine may experience a storage capacity shortage of 10-15 million metric tons. It is crucial to engage partners for the construction of temporary grain elevators along the western borders of Ukraine.

Russia is committing food terrorism by purposefully destroying our agricultural infrastructure and stealing Ukrainian grain and agricultural machinery.

The missile strikes of Russian troops damaged and destroyed many farms, stocks of food and seeds, silos, warehouses, oil depots, agriculture machinery, and equipment.

There are credible reports of looting of Ukrainian grain by Russian military from the temporarily occupied territories in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. A lot of other testimonies and evidence confirm that Russian occupiers have seized already about 500,000 tons of grain crops, which is almost a third of the stocks left there for sowing and domestic consumption needs.

According to satellite images, Russian-flagged ships are carrying grain harvested in Ukraine and transporting it from the Russian-controlled Crimean port of Sevastopol and from the port of Berdyansk (Zaporizhzhya region) mainly to Syria, Turkey, and/or Lebanon.

Up to now, 41 bulk carriers under mostly under Russian and Syrian flags were identified to transport the looted Ukrainian grain.

In most cases, these ships switch off their Automatic Identification Systems transponders (AIS) to hide the fact of loading in the occupied ports of Crimea.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has previously warned consumer countries that grain consignments sold by Russia might contain partially or in full stolen grain seized as a result of looting by Russian troops. Numerous testimonies from Ukrainian farmers and documented evidence serve as proof of Russia’s plunder of Ukrainian grain.

The Kremlin is using hunger as a tactic to obliterate Ukrainian identity nearly 90 years after the Holodomor.

We demand that Russia end grain theft, open Ukrainian ports, restore freedom of navigation, and allow commerce ships to sail through in order to prevent a humanitarian calamity and a global food crisis.

The illegal export of Ukrainian grain is another example of Russia’s destructive acts, which, in particular, contravene the fundamental principles of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – achieving food security for all and overcoming hunger. The aggressor state’s policy puts into doubt the relevance of its participation in FAO and other international organizations.

Russia might seek to turn the situation further to its own advantage when it comes to food. Not only could Moscow steal Ukraine’s share of the global market for commodities like corn and wheat, but also it will attempt to whitewash its image as a charitable provider to poor countries, just as it blockades Ukraine’s own supplies.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba urged the international community to reject the Kremlin’s “food blackmail” namely Russian call for lifting or reducing reduce sanction pressure against Russia in exchange for the opening of commercial routes through the Black Sea.

The Russian foreign ministry has manipulated the publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to deny Russia’s contribution to the world food crisis.

Apart from the direct damage to the lands – the occupation, military actions, and mining pollution limit farmers’ access to the fields and opportunities to collect the harvest. It will result in unharvested winter crops across many of the war-affected areas. Approximately 2.4 million hectares of winter crops could be unharvested, resulting in $1.435 billion in damages.

Any attempt to divert our attention to the issues that are implications of Russia’s ongoing violations, any attempt to equate them with the root cause would only help Moscow to further use food exports as a weapon. Ukraine, in its turn, does its best to secure the country’s export potential to the largest extent possible to ensure those depending on our export will not suffer from hunger.

We call on the international community to condemn Russia’s actions, to demand withdrawal of its troops from Ukraine and the end to the blockades of the Ukrainian ports, to strengthen economic sanctions in order to stop armed aggression against Ukraine and to prevent further humanitarian catastrophe and worsening of world hunger.

We discuss with our partners the ways to establish an international mission – humanitarian corridor – under the auspices of the United Nations, which will take over the functioning of maritime routes for the export of Ukrainian agricultural goods.

On July 13, 2022 the first round of negotiations between Ukraine, Turkey, the Russian federation and the UN regarding the functioning of sea corridors for the export of Ukrainian grain took place in Istanbul.

The Ukrainian delegation noted some progress in these negotiations. We appreciate a significant contribution of the UN and Turkey to these negotiations. In the coming days, the President of Ukraine will discuss the details with the UN Secretary General.

We assume that the unblocking of Ukrainian ports is one of the key components of global food security. Ukraine is making significant efforts to restore the supply of food to the world market. It should be done as soon as possible.

However, the security remains the key issue for Ukraine. We cannot rule out Russia’s plans to use such humanitarian corridor to attack Odesa and southern Ukraine.

That is why effective security guarantees are needed to restore navigation. Such guarantees should be provided by supplying Ukraine with appropriate weapons to protect the coastline from threats from the sea. The strong position of our armed forces in the Black Sea region will allow to restore the safe navigation and to ensure the national and regional security. This is a priority for Ukraine.

Regarding the actual issue of grain looting in Ukraine, we emphasize that the Ukrainian side raises this issue constantly at international institutions and during bilateral and multilateral discussions with foreign partners at all levels.

We warn consumer countries not to buy stolen Ukrainian grain. Consignments exported by Russia could contain stolen grain obtained as a result of Russian occupation authorities’ plundering. We will monitor every illegal shipment of grain being exported from Ukraine. Any country that knowingly purchases stolen grain is considered to be complicit in the crime.

Food price increases are having devastating effects on the poorest and most vulnerable. To inform and stabilize markets, it is critical that countries make clear statements now of future output increases in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Countries should make concerted efforts to increase the supply of energy and fertilizers, help farmers increase plantings and crop yields, and remove policies that block exports and imports, divert food to biofuel, or encourage unnecessary storage.

By the Defense Attache of the Embassy of Ukraine in Thailand, Colonel Dmytro Sotnichenko, on the current food security situation in Ukraine.

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