Russia, Ukraine extend grain deal to help world’s poor
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – An unprecedented war deal allowing grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices are pushing more people into poverty has been extended , officials said Saturday.
The extension was announced by the United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but neither confirmed the length of the extension.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted that the deal had been extended by 120 days – the length Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations wanted. There was initially no comment from Russia, which wanted to extend it by 60 days.
This is the second extension of separate deals Ukraine and Russia signed with the United Nations and Turkey to allow food to leave the Black Sea region after Russia invaded its neighbor more than a year ago. The warring nations are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that developing countries depend on.
Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilizers – which are also vital to the global food chain – are not making it to global markets under the deal, which first came into effect in August and will be extended for a further four months in November has been a problem for a long time.
The war in Ukraine sent food prices to record highs last year, contributing to a global food crisis also linked to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate factors such as drought. This disruption to grain supplies, a staple of countries like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria, exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more into poverty or food insecurity. People in developing countries spend more money on basic necessities like groceries.
Food prices have fallen for 11 straight months, but food was already expensive before the war because of droughts from America to the Middle East – most devastating in the Horn of Africa, with thousands dying in Somalia. Poorer nations, dependent on imported food at dollar prices, spend more when their currencies weaken.
The crisis has left an estimated 345 million people food insecure, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped by allowing 24 million tons of grain to leave Ukrainian ports, with 55% of shipments going to developing countries, according to the UN.
The deals have also faced setbacks since they were brokered by the UN and Turkey: Russia briefly withdrew in November before rejoining and extending the deal. In recent months, inspections designed to ensure ships are only carrying grain and not weapons have slowed.
This has contributed to backlogs on ships waiting in Turkey’s waters and a recent drop in the amount of grain coming out of Ukraine.
Ukrainian and some US officials have blamed Russia for the slowdown, which the country denies.
While fertilizers have been stuck, Russia is exporting huge quantities of wheat after a bumper harvest. Figures from financial data provider Refinitiv show that Russian wheat exports more than doubled to 3.8 million tons in January compared to the same month last year before the invasion.
According to Refinitiv, Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December and January, up 24% from the same three months last year. It was estimated that Russia would export 44 million tons of wheat between 2022 and 2023.
Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Elise Morton in London and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.
See AP’s full coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and the food crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/food-crisis.
Karl Ritter, The Associated Press