12% of world’s calories at risk from Russian invasion of Ukraine
Grain has become a powerful weapon of war for Vladimir Putin. The blockade of Black Sea ports is preventing the movement of grain harvested in Ukraine, raising fears of famine in the most vulnerable parts of the world, as food exports paralyzed by the war accounted for about 12% of world food calories.
The country overrun by Russia is considered one of the world’s main granaries. Kiev brought in 27 billion in agricultural products in 2021. Ninety percent of exports were via the Black Sea, specifically the port of Odessa, whose ships are now unable to transport grain. In addition, Russian attacks have led to underwater mines around the ports, making it unsafe to sail.
Before the war, Ukrainian sunflower oil accounted for 49.6 percent of the global trade volume. Corn accounted for 15.3 percent, barley for 12.6 percent and wheat for 10 percent. Nor should Russian crops be underestimated: wheat accounted for 24.1 percent, sunflower oil 23.1 percent, sunflower 19.6 percent and barley 14.2 percent. In addition, Moscow is also a key exporter of fertilizers, but stopped trading in them in response to sanctions imposed by the US and the EU. The UN estimates that 1.4 billion people may be affected by shortages of wheat and other grains in vulnerable areas such as the Middle East and Africa.
This is compounded by the protectionist policies of some countries. For example, India decided to impose a total ban on wheat exports in mid-May, resulting in a 6% price increase within 24 hours of the announcement of the measure.
In order to alleviate the situation, the European executive has proposed the implementation of corridors for rail, river and road transport, providing alternative routes to the Black Sea ports. But experts consider that these are not viable solutions since only a quantity equivalent to minus 20% of the total can be taken out of the country. The main problem is the lack of physical infrastructure, mainly railways and facilities for loading, storage and unloading of bulk goods. A lack for which no solution is seen in the long, short or medium term.
European diplomatic sources acknowledge the difficulty. Before the war, Ukraine used to export between 5 and 6 million tons of grain every month, while the options now on the table only contemplate about 2 million.
Among the proposals circulating in the European corridors, the capitals have also considered the possibility of sending a naval mission to facilitate the unblocking of the ports and to serve as an escort for Ukrainian cargo ships attempting to leave from the Black Sea. Although negotiations between Brussels and the UN are continuing, no concrete steps have yet been announced. The NATO summit in Madrid has also addressed the problem without tangible results.