In a time of record food insecurity affecting 349 million people across 79 countries, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has issued a warning about the impending expiration of the Black Sea grain deal, emphasizing the potential for further instability in the food market. With Ukrainian and Russian grain accounting for up to 90% of imports in East African countries grappling with a food security crisis, extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative becomes imperative.
Since its inception, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has played a vital role in restarting shipments of Ukrainian and Russian grain, providing a lifeline for countries heavily reliant on these imports. As of May 2023, over 29 million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs have been exported from Ukraine alone. However, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts a severe export shortfall from Ukraine and Russia, coupled with a lack of affordable fertilizers, will result in nearly 19 million undernourished people in 2023.
To mitigate these dire consequences, the IRC is urging the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative while expanding its coverage to include more Ukrainian ports. This strategic move aims to alleviate pressure on food prices and curb speculation on grain futures. By ensuring that food exports through this mechanism reach the countries most in need, particularly in East Africa and elsewhere, the international community can address the growing crisis of food insecurity.
The urgency to extend the Black Sea Grain Deal is also evident within Ukraine itself, where farmers continue to face significant challenges in selling their grain due to disruptions in logistics chains and blockades at seaports. The IRC’s conversations with Ukrainian farmers highlight the immense difficulties they encounter, with food storage becoming increasingly problematic due to the war’s disruptive impact on the power supply. Limited access, logistical obstacles, and rising transportation costs have forced farmers to discard crops, compounding the food security crisis.
Shashwat Saraf, the East Africa Emergency Director at the IRC, stressed the consequences of food shortages and unaffordable fertilizers, which drive up prices and make it exceedingly difficult for families in countries like Somalia to secure their next meal. Agricultural production decline, exacerbated by active shelling in Ukraine and climate change-induced crop failures elsewhere, further compounds the global food crisis.
Saraf warns that any disruption to the market, such as the expiration of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, can have catastrophic ripple effects in countries teetering on the brink of famine. The subsequent increase in hunger and malnutrition resulting from the expiration of this critical initiative will spell disaster for East Africa. To avert this impending crisis, the international community must actively support the constructive extension of the grain deal, facilitating the inflow of food into the global system, lowering soaring costs, and maintaining market stability. It is imperative to ensure that supply chains remain open and uninterrupted, enabling grain to reach the countries that need it most.
Saraf emphasized the crucial role played by the United Nations in procuring and shipping grain from Ukraine, while aid organizations like the IRC tirelessly work to alleviate hunger and malnutrition worldwide, striving to prevent further loss of life due to hunger. The expiration of the Black Sea Grain Initiative would significantly impede these efforts. Therefore, it is essential for the international community to unequivocally stand behind maintaining Ukraine’s grain exports, acknowledging their significance in addressing global food insecurity.
As the world faces an unprecedented food crisis, extending and expanding the Black Sea Grain Initiative represents a crucial step toward securing a stable and reliable food supply chain. By acting swiftly and decisively, the international community can protect millions of vulnerable individuals from hunger and malnutrition