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Russia-Ukraine war: Black Sea wheat deal collapse to cause global food crisis

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There are warnings Russia’s cancellation of a ceasefire deal will put huge pressure on global food supplies, with the Kremlin accused of “blackmailing the world with hunger”.

On the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled out of a deal which allowed Ukraine grain exports to leave from Black Sea ports, after a drone attack on Saturday damaged the Russian fleet in Crimea.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a disturbing impact on global economies, with food prices around the world soaring – and it has also pushed dozens of countries close to the brink of famine.

That’s because both Russia and Ukraine are big producers of wheat – accounting for around 26 per cent of the world’s total wheat exports, with Russia being the world’s leading exporter.

Ukraine alone was exporting five million metric tonnes of wheat before the invasion, but as its ports were closed with Russian troops occupying or blocking them, millions around the world suffered.

The world also relies on the region for a quarter of barley exports, about a fifth of its corn haul, and the bulk of its sunflower oil shipments, according to Bloomberg. It is also a key exporter of fertiliser.

Months after the invasion, the United Nations (UN) warned the military action had pushed 47 million people into a stage of “acute hunger”.

Now there are fears of “catastrophic food shortages” and global food prices skyrocketing again after Putin pulled out of the Black Sea deal, which had ended a five-month Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.

The United Nations-backed agreement allowed grain exports from Ukraine to pass through the Black Sea.

The deal had not only seen more than nine million tonnes of grain in 397 ships leave Ukrainian ports since July, but also helped drive global food prices down by about 15 per cent from their peak in March, according to the UN.

Wheat prices were also on track to post a 5 per cent fall in October.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s move risks sending the world into another food crisis, with 218 ships involved in grain exports blocked so far.

Disturbingly, one of the ships has 40,000 tonnes of grain bound for Ethiopia, which is in the grip of one of its worst droughts and famines. That grain was being sent under a UN aid program.

“There are now 218 pieces of evidence that Russia does not want any genuine agreements,” Mr Zelensky said.

“Russia is the only culprit for the fact that food will now become more expensive for different people in a vast area from West Africa to East Asia.

“Russia is the reason why people – in particular in Ethiopia, Yemen or Somalia – are left with catastrophic food shortages.”

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on Russia to stop its “Hunger Games” and recommit to its obligations.

Global humanitarian organisations, the European Union, NATO and the United Nations have also pleaded with Moscow to reverse its decision, warning it could have deadly consequences.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had helped broker the original deal, said he was hopeful the initiative could be continued.

“One-third of the world’s wheat is produced by Russia and Ukraine. You are the closest witnesses of our efforts to deliver this wheat to the countries facing the threat of famine,” he said.

Shashwat Saraf, the East Africa emergency director at the International Rescue Committee, said a collapse of the deal would “hit those on the brink of starvation the most”.

“The renewed blockade is prompting grave concerns about the growing global hunger crisis, especially in East Africa where over 20 million people are experiencing hunger, or in places like Yemen which relies on Russia and Ukraine for almost half its wheat import and where over 19 million people need food assistance,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all sides to renew the grain deal.

“If food and fertilisers do not reach global markets now, farmers will not have fertilisers at the right time and at a price they can afford as the planting season begins, endangering crops in all regions of the world in 2023 and 2024, with dramatic effect on food production and food prices worldwide,” he said.

“The current crisis of affordability will turn into a crisis of availability.”

Russia said it was withdrawing from the deal for an “indefinite period of time”.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said he was in talks with his counterparts to “solve the problem and to continue the grain initiative”.

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