On Friday, three more ships carrying thousands of grains have left Ukrainian ports, officials said in the latest sign of a negotiated deal to export grain that has been stranded since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly six months ago. Happening slowly. But the countries that need it the most have major barriers to getting food.
The ships bound for Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Turkey followed the first grain shipments to pass through the Black Sea since the start of the war. That ship’s route to Lebanon earlier this week was the first under successful deals signed by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
While the shipments have raised hopes of easing a global food crisis, much of the grain Ukraine is trying to export is used for animal feed, not for people to eat, experts say. The first vessels to leave are among more than a dozen bulk carriers and cargo ships that had been loaded with grain but stuck in ports since Russia invaded in late February. And the cargoes are not expected to significantly impact the global price of corn, wheat and soybeans for several reasons.
For starters, the exports under the deal are off to a slow, cautious start due to the threat of explosive mines floating off Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline.
And while Ukraine is a major wheat exporter to developing nations, other countries, such as the United States and Canada, have far greater production levels that can affect global wheat prices. And they face the threat of drought.
“Ukraine is about 10% of the international trade in wheat, but in terms of production, it is not even 5%,” said David Laborde, an expert on agriculture and trade at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
The three ships left Friday with over 58,000 tons of corn, but that is still a fraction of the 20 million tons of grains that Ukraine says are trapped in the country’s silos and ports, which must be shipped out to make space for this year’s harvest.
Around 6 million tons of the trapped grain is wheat, but just half of that is for human consumption, Laborde said.
There is an expectation that Ukraine could produce 30% to 40% less grain over the coming 12 months due to the war, though other estimates put that figure at 70%.
Grain prices peaked after Russia’s invasion, and while some have since come down to their pre-war levels, they are still higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Corn prices are 70% higher than at the end of February 2020, said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. He said wheat prices are around 60% higher than in February 2020.
One reason prices remain high is the impact of drought on harvests in North America, China and other regions, as well as the higher price of fertilizer needed for farming.
Russian shelling also targeted the city of Zaporizhzhia and several towns along the frontline in the region. For a second straight day, the Russians also shelled the city of Nikopol that faces the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant across the Dnieper River. Dozens of houses were damaged.
The Russians also hit the southern city of Mykolaiv.