Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has had a significant impact on the Black Sea grain deal, which expired on March 18, 2023. The deal was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations (UN) and Turkey in July 2022, to combat a global food crisis that was fueled in part by Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports.
The agreement allows for the safe export of grain from several Ukrainian Black Sea ports. When Russia invaded, its naval vessels blockaded Ukraine’s ports, trapping some 20 million tonnes of grain, which forced global food prices to all-time highs. Food supplies were particularly threatened in Middle Eastern and African countries, which rely on Ukrainian grain.
Currently, Ukraine’s agriculture ministry says the country is exporting 30% less food than it did before the Russian invasion. This is partly because farmers are producing less due to the fighting across large parts of the country. Furthermore, Ukraine’s government says Russia has been delaying cargo ships heading to ports to pick up produce.
Under the deal, Russia has the right to inspect ships to make sure they aren’t bringing cargo into Ukraine, such as weapons. However, Ukraine has accused Russia of being overly picky with the inspections, causing a queue of about 100 ships at the entrance to the Black Sea. As expected, this has resulted in a grain supply deficit and Eastern African countries are particularly feeling the brunt, especially with the ongoing drought.
While Ukraine only exports about 27% of its grain to low and lower-middle-income countries like Egypt, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan, the UN says that that ‘small’ amount has benefited needy people around the world. It says the exports have served to calm international food markets, and bring food prices under control. Moreover, the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP) buys about half of all the grain Ukraine produces to distribute as humanitarian aid around the world.
For instance, between August 2022 and December 2022, the UN sent 13 ships from Ukraine carrying a total of over 380,000 tonnes of wheat to Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the expiration of the Black Sea grain deal is threatening to bring all this to an end thereby impacting Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and other African Countries that are beneficiaries and that are presently facing a drought situation.
The drought plaguing the Horn of Africa has been worrying UN officials and the lack of grain without any reprieve in sight is making matters worse. According to the officials, drought is pushing countries towards famine conditions. Additionally, the prices of staple foods have risen across these regions by an average of 30%.
Now, while the Black Sea Grain Deal provided a much-needed source of support to Somalia, its potential disruption underscores the need for us to invest more in the agriculture sector and diversify our sources of food imports. Somalia’s agriculture sector has the potential to become a major contributor to the country’s and region’s economy and food security.