Russia and Ukraine extend grain deal to help world’s poor

An unprecedented wartime deal has been extended that allows grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where famine is a growing threat.

The extension was announced by the United Nations and by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but neither confirmed the length of the extension.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted that the agreement had been extended by 120 days, but Erdogan did not confirm the duration.

Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations had been pushing for a 120-day extension, while Russia wanted to renew for 60 days.

This is the second renewal of separate agreements 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.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not confirm the duration of the grain deal extension (AP/PA)

Warring nations are major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products on which developing nations depend.

Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilizers, which are also critical to the global food chain, are not reaching world markets, a long-standing problem under the deal that first came into force in August and renewed for another four months in November.

The war in Ukraine sent food prices to record levels last year and helped contribute to a global food crisis also linked to the lingering effects of the covid-19 pandemic and climate factors such as drought.

That disruption in shipments of grain needed for staple foods in places like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more into poverty or food insecurity.

People in developing countries spend more of their money on basic things like food.

Food prices have fallen for 11 straight months, but food was already expensive before the war due to droughts from the Americas to the Middle East, most devastating in the Horn of Africa, with thousands of deaths in Somalia.

Poorer nations that depend on imported food at dollar prices are spending more as their currencies weaken.

The crisis has left some 345 million people food insecure, according to the UN World Food Programme.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped by allowing 24 million metric tons of grain to leave Ukraine’s ports, with 55% of shipments heading to developing countries, the UN said.

The deal has also faced setbacks since it was negotiated by the UN and Turkey: Russia briefly withdrew in November before rejoining and extending the deal.

Inspections aimed at ensuring ships are carrying only grain and not weapons have slowed in recent months. That has helped lead to delays for ships waiting in Turkish waters and a recent drop in the amount of grain leaving Ukraine.

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Grain is unloaded from the bulk carrier Eaubonne after it docked at the port of Mombasa, Kenya (Gideon Maundu/AP/PA)

Ukraine and some US officials have blamed Russia for the slowdown, which the country denies.

While fertilizers have stagnated, Russia has been exporting huge amounts of wheat after a record harvest. Figures from financial data provider Refinitiv show Russian wheat exports more than doubled to 3.8 million tonnes in January from the same month a year earlier, before the invasion.

Russian wheat shipments hit or were near record levels in November, December and January, rising 24% from the same three months a year earlier, according to Refinitiv.

He estimated that Russia would export 44 million tons of wheat in 2022-2023.


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