Russia's Ukraine war, grain blockade is stoking a global food crisis

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one month ago  •  25 comments

By:   Phil McCausland

Russia's Ukraine war, grain blockade is stoking a global food crisis
Russia's war has crippled Ukraine's farmers, making it difficult to export grain that is crucial to global supplies. The West accuses Putin of weaponizing food to help fuel a crisis.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



KYIV, Ukraine — Dmitriy Skornyakov is the CEO of Harvest Holdings, one of the largest agriculture firms in Ukraine. Or at least he was, before Russia invaded the country often called "Europe's breadbasket."

Harvest Holdings possessed almost 500,000 acres of Ukrainian farmland in 2014. They had some smaller fields near Kyiv and owned huge swaths of land around Mariupol and in the eastern Donbas region that is now the focus of the war. The majority of that land is now inaccessible: About 20,000 acres close to the capital are covered in Russian landmines, and nearly 350,000 acres in the country's east are occupied by the Kremlin's forces.

Farmers across this country are unable to sow their land, missing a critical planting window while also struggling to ship harvested crops out due to a Russian blockade of Ukraine's critical Black Sea ports. Meanwhile, a gas crisis and ongoing tank and artillery battles makes it a challenge to simply maintain the little land they have left.

"We're not talking about profit anymore," said Skornyakov, who added that his company had also tracked farm equipment stolen by Russian forces via GPS to mainland Russia and annexed Crimea. "We're talking about survival."

Ukrainian farmers now have an estimated 22 million metric tons of grain stuck in storehouses. Their race to plant new crops while also shipping this vast contribution to global food supplies has become a matter of urgency for officials from Europe to Africa, fearing that Russia may not just have struck at the heart of Ukraine's economy but might be weaponizing food to help fuel a worldwide hunger crisis.

Ivan, a farm manager at AgroRegion, in a field of winter wheat near Velyka Starytsia, Ukraine.Brendan Hoffman for NBC News

With few good solutions — one option put forward appears to be a risky naval escort — the United States and its allies have sought to make it clear who they feel is responsible.

Accusing Russia of "blackmail," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week that the Kremlin was holding back its own supplies of grain after attacking Ukrainian storage facilities and seizing stocks, all while blockading the country's ports.

"The consequences of these shameful acts are there for everyone to see. Global wheat prices are skyrocketing. And it is the fragile countries and vulnerable populations that suffer most," she added in an address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which countries in the Middle East and Africa rely on to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread.

The lack of Ukrainian grain is pushing food prices up and pressing countries already facing shortages toward famine. Leaders at Davos emphasized the link between the blockaded ports of Odesa and the millions of people threatened with starvation in countries like Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, Somalia and beyond.

And that pain could last for years around the globe.

Because many farmers here have missed a crucial planting window, not only can they not move the sunflowers, wheat, corn and other farm commodities they have stored, but they may not have grown much by the time the next harvest arrives.

The invasion of a country that also provided a fifth of the world's nutrient supply for fertilizer is also having a similarly detrimental effect on crop yields in nations thousands of miles away, according to the International Fertilizer Development Center. Russia and Belarus, under sanctions in the wake of the invasion, account for 40 percent of the crop nutrient potash.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned last week that dwindling food supplies caused by the war in Ukraine, the pandemic and climate change could lead to global unrest.

"If we do not feed people, we feed conflict," he said.

Russia denies it's at fault, however, and has sought to shift blame to the West.

The Kremlin indicated this week it was willing to lift the blockade and export its own grain and fertilizer — but only if the U.S. and its allies lift sanctions imposed in the wake of the invasion.

Farm workers had maintained a schedule of eight hours of work, eight hours of service in territorial defense, and eight hours of sleep when Russian forces advanced toward the capital. Locals with Kalashnikovs still maintain strict checkpoints near fields and agricultural infrastructure.

While the Kremlin's forces are long gone, there is still a lingering fear that Russian missiles will target grain storage and farm fields to further undermine the Ukrainian economy, Taras Ivanyshyn, the investment director of Agro-Region, a major agriculture company, said along a dirt road that abutted a field owned by his company.

But there's not much they can do about that. The main challenge now, Ivanyshyn explained, is moving the tons of grain stuck in their stores.

Vyacheslav, a tractor driver for AgroRegion, walks near his tractor in a field he is planting with corn on April 25, 2022 near Boryspil, Ukraine.Brendan Hoffman for NBC News

Ukrainian farmers were dependent on exporting quickly and moved the vast majority of their stores through the Black Sea, he said. Those ports are currently under Russian control or blockaded by its navy. That means only a handful of small ports on the Danube River in southwest Ukraine, where the waterway flows into Romanian waters, can be used to move commodities.

"We have a huge amount of grain that needs to be exported through ways that we're not used to. That's why we have queues at the land borders and the river ports are overloaded, which we're mostly doing it through," said Ivanyshyn, noting that the moment has caused huge price fluctuations. "I can't disclose everything because it's dangerous. Some of our competitors said too much and got bombed."

Without the sea and with air travel at a standstill, there are few good options to moving the crops. Many farmers and agriculture businesses have pivoted toward shipping grain on trucks or trains, but there are many downsides: The fuel shortage makes trucks a scary proposition, trucks and trains can move only a fraction of the weight that the ships in the Black Sea can, and trucks and trains are currently getting backed up at Ukraine's borders.

Trucks line the highway at border crossings with countries like Poland, Romania and Hungary. NBC News witnessed one crossing with Poland this month with a line that stretched for more than 10 miles. Many drivers sat outside their trucks, chatted with one another or chain smoked as they waited.

Trains have been a vital lifeline for Ukraine to move its supplies and people throughout the country during the war, and the movement of food is no different.

But it's also become a bottleneck.

Corn coated with fugicide in a field being planted by AgroRegion last month near Boryspil, Ukraine.Brendan Hoffman for NBC News

"It's not just just farmers, but pretty much everybody, every commodity, including coal and mining, uses the railways," said Oleksandr Pertsovskyi, the CEO of Ukrainian Railways' passenger train business. "Via the rail network, we only have access to two minor ports in the Danube delta, and now with attacks on the bridges in those areas that's also under threat."

Still, they are working to expand capacity there and investing in new grain elevators, Pertsovskyi said. The biggest challenge they face in addressing the grain shortfalls, however, isn't Russian missile strikes — it's train wheels.

Ukraine uses a different type of gauge on its trains than the Europeans, a difference of 85 mm, tied to the era of tsars and empires. That means that when a Ukrainian train gets to neighboring countries — the main route for commodities now — everything on it has to be offloaded to a European train that is compatible with European tracks, creating a logistical nightmare.

Roman Slaston, the CEO of the ​​Ukrainian Agribusiness Club, an influential lobbying group in Kyiv, said that the gauge difference is a major pain, but farmers are still working feverishly to move their crops while also planting where they can.

"We load on wagons much more than we can export," he said, "and now we have huge queues — 10 days, sometimes 20 days — at every crossing border point."

Working toward a solution


The situation is growing more desperate.

There are growing calls from world leaders for a solution, but that would require major changes to transportation infrastructure in Ukraine and border protocols. That can't be resolved overnight, leading to more daring suggestions.

Lithuania is currently leading a charge to have a naval "coalition of the willing" break the blockade with a fleet that would escort ships loaded with grain from Ukrainian ports. The Lithuanians said the proposal was endorsed by Britain when the two countries' foreign ministers met on Monday.

But the U.K. denied it had any plans to deploy its warships to the Black Sea and noted that it would have to provide 15 days notice to the Turkish government before entry, a Black Sea maritime traffic regulation that is a matter of public record.

"Putin's despicable blockades are preventing food getting to people who need it," a U.K. government spokesman said. "We will continue to work intensively with international partners to find ways to resume the export of grain from Ukraine."

Egypt is trying to increase its domestic wheat production as the war in Ukraine has strained international supplies of the grain. Amr Nabil / AP file

But such grand ideas are fraught with geopolitical danger, so the world is currently reliant on more modest solutions.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, on Tuesday in which the two "discussed potential means to export Ukraine's grain to international markets," according to the State Department.

The European Union, meanwhile, has been working on plans since April to help create "solidarity corridors" to break down some of the logistical hurdles.

The aim is to establish alternative routes and links to E.U. seaports that can help ship goods farther while also providing increased storage. The European Commission put forward an action plan this month that would add to the freight stock, expand the capacity of transport networks, lift some inspection requirements and upgrade the cross-border connections.

Anna Wartberger, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said that a network of contacts for the "solidarity lanes" was being set up. Those contacts, working with national authorities, are supposed to act as liaisons to try to smooth out some of the logistic chain hiccups.

Lithuania announced this week that it had received its first delivery of grain by rail from Ukraine as part of that new effort.

It will now be shipped across the globe via its port on the Baltic Sea, while the millions of metric tons that remain are stuck in the middle of Russia's war.

"Whether they get it out is anybody's guess," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters after meeting with the Group of 7 industrial leaders last week, "but there is going to be a heck of an effort to get it out."

Associated Press contributed.


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Waykwabu
Freshman Quiet
1  Waykwabu    one month ago

Russia ( ex USSR ) has never quite got over that during the German invasion in World War II, Ukrainians at first welcomed the invaders as  "liberators".  Although Ukraine gained independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union, their Russian neighbours take the opportunity to remind them "we are still here" and to make things as painful as possible.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1.1  Kavika   replied to  Waykwabu @1    one month ago

250,000 Ukrainians fought with Germany as they were nationalists that wanted out from under the Russian yoke. On the other hand, 4.5 million Ukrainians fought with the Russians against the Nazis. 

Then there is the little matter of Stalin starving nearly 4 million Ukrainians to death to enforce collectivism and to stamp out Ukrainian nationalism it was called the ''Holodomor'' 1931/33.

Yeah, Russia needs to punish the Ukrainians for wanting their own country and millions dying for Russia, what the hell are the Ukrainians thinking. /s

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
2  Split Personality    one month ago

The top 2 destinations for Ukrainian wheat are Egypt and Turkey.

We are talking disruption to the wheat supply of some of the worlds' most struggling nations

Ethiopia, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine,

The Ukranian maise supply to Turkey & Iran, the ME all being trashed

at a time when Russian wheat and maise is being sanctioned by the west & NATO.

Rumania and Moldova want to help, but the EU & NATO need to step up,

WWIII has already started.  The Russian government needs to be defeated.

 
 
 
Ronin2
Professor Quiet
2.1  Ronin2  replied to  Split Personality @2    one month ago
WWIII has already started.  The Russian government needs to be defeated.

"Prepare for Heavenly fallout."

That is the type of dumbass thinking that got us here in the first place.

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
2.1.1  Split Personality  replied to  Ronin2 @2.1    4 weeks ago
That is the type of dumbass thinking that got us here in the first place.

The Russian government now controls all TV, radio and newsprint.  It's a crime to criticize the government.

Yet TV anchors are threatening the UK & Ireland with a nuclear strike, "Poland is next" and threatening

military action including nukes against Sweden and Finland if they join NATO.  I not that the government 

hasn't stopped the dumbass saber rattling yet.

...

How did we reluctantly get involved in Europe the last time?  

We decided too slowly to give weapons to Britain, then call it Lend Lease and open the spigots.

We are repeating that today, step by step, inch by inch.

It's no coincidence, humans, especially men, are doomed by their DNA,

it's testosterone poisoning.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
3  Buzz of the Orient    one month ago
"Accusing Russia of "blackmail," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week that the Kremlin was holding back its own supplies of grain after attacking Ukrainian storage facilities and seizing stocks, all while blockading the country's ports."

I don't see it as "blackmail" any more than the sanctions imposed on Russia.  Those sanctions are backfiring on the rest of the world and causing inflation and curtailment of necessities.  Russia is fighting fire with fire and I think that's preferable to nuclear war.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.1  Kavika   replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3    one month ago

If Russia hadn't invaded a sovereign country that posed no threat to them killing tens of thousands of civilians including many children there wouldn't be the problem. 

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
3.1.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Kavika @3.1    one month ago

Absolutely, but we can't time travel back to the past.  We have to deal with things that are happening today.

 
 
 
JBB
Professor Principal
3.1.2  JBB  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1.1    one month ago

What justifies Russia, the aggressor, fighting fire with fire when Russia started the fires?

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
3.1.3  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  JBB @3.1.2    one month ago

I don't know, all I did was say what I saw happening.  

 
 
 
Ronin2
Professor Quiet
3.1.4  Ronin2  replied to  Kavika @3.1    one month ago

If the US/NATO hadn't flipped all of those former Soviet block states Russia wouldn't feel threatened; and we might have a more pro western Russian leader than Putin.

The warning signs were all there. But Obama and NATO proceeded to back a coup of a duly elected pro Russian Ukrainian president. Things have been predictably going downhill from there.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Freshman Principal
3.1.5  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Ronin2 @3.1.4    one month ago
If the US/NATO hadn't flipped all of those former Soviet block states Russia wouldn't feel threatened;

Putin said his goal was to de-Nazify Ukraine and protect people from genocide by Ukraine's government.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Freshman Principal
3.1.6  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Ronin2 @3.1.4    one month ago
If the US/NATO hadn't flipped all of those former Soviet block states Russia wouldn't feel threatened;

Exactly, what was Poland thinking?  Why should they get to decide who to ally with?

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
3.1.7  Split Personality  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @3.1.6    4 weeks ago

jrSmiley_98_smiley_image.gif

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
3.1.8  Split Personality  replied to  Ronin2 @3.1.4    4 weeks ago
The warning signs were all there.

"There are signs all around us".

But Obama and NATO proceeded to back a coup of a duly elected pro Russian Ukrainian president.

How politically naive are you?  In the Russian Federation, the leader, currently

Putin gets to pick who wins the elections. 

The voting is all for show, the outcomes are predetermined.

Ukraine peacefully corrected one of those elections and became very prosperous

is a very short time.

There's a good book by Timothy Snyder, mandatory reading for the Diplomatic Corps,

I hear. 

The Road to Unfreedom. 

The history of Putin's rise to power and how he keeps it.

Things have been predictably going downhill from there

"Things" were going swimmingly well for Ukraine until

the bully next store began believing his own BS about Nazis.

 
 
 
Ronin2
Professor Quiet
3.2  Ronin2  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3    one month ago

We do look like hypocrites in the West don't we?

We impose worldwide sanctions on Russia to cripple their entire country including their sale of wheat and barley; and then bitch when they blockade Ukraine (who they are at war with) from being able to conduct commerce as normal.

We made our bed; and now we have to lie in it. Or we could do what the Russians suggest.

The Kremlin indicated this week it was willing to lift the blockade and export its own grain and fertilizer — but only if the U.S. and its allies lift sanctions imposed in the wake of the invasion.

What short sighted dumbasses we have for world leaders. 

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Freshman Principal
3.2.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Ronin2 @3.2    one month ago
We impose worldwide sanctions on Russia to cripple their entire country including their sale of wheat and barley;

Which sanctions effect Russian sale of grains?  Do you mean that some countries refused to by shiploads of Ukrainian wheat stolen by Russia?

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
3.2.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @3.2.1    4 weeks ago

Would Russia blockade the export of wheat, grain and fertilizers so relied upon by other world nations if the West were not imposing sanctions?

The governments of those countries refusing to accept wheat would prefer to see their citizens starve to death, if not be strangled by the skyrocketing price of food staples?  When bread is not available, potatoes get sold out and all prices rise accordingly.  A drop in the bucket can spread ripples far and wide. 

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Principal
4  sandy-2021492    one month ago

Lots of shilling for dictators going on here.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
PhD Principal
5  Nerm_L    one month ago

Russia produces 3.5 times more wheat than Ukraine.  Russian supply of wheat to the global market is 1.5 times larger than Ukraine.  Russia exports as much wheat as does the United States.   

The war in Ukraine threatens 8.5 pct of the global wheat supply.  The sanctions on Russia threatens an additional 13 pct of the global wheat supply.  The United States doubling wheat production and export won't replace what the United States has removed from the global supply through war policy and sanctions.  But NATO is more united than ever.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Freshman Principal
5.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Nerm_L @5    one month ago
Russia produces 3.5 times more wheat than Ukraine.  Russian supply of wheat to the global market is 1.5 times larger than Ukraine.  

Yes, and Russia is 2,733% larger than the Ukraine with more than twice the population.  They have also stolen Ukrainian grain and farm equipment.

The sanctions on Russia threatens an additional 13 pct of the global wheat supply. 

Which sanctions are doing that?

 
 
 
Nerm_L
PhD Principal
5.1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @5.1    one month ago
Yes, and Russia is 2,733% larger than the Ukraine with more than twice the population.  They have also stolen Ukrainian grain and farm equipment.

Which has nothing to do with supply of wheat to global markets.

Which sanctions are doing that?

The sanctions have targeted Russia's ability to engage in financial transactions.  Russia may be able to deliver wheat but it has become difficult for buyers to buy wheat from Russia because of the bans on financial transactions with Russia.  At this point, the financial transactions would need to use the Chinese financial system since Russian banks have been banned from the European and US financial systems.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
5.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Nerm_L @5    one month ago

More than wheat - don't forget fertilizers - farmers around the world are struggling without them.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Freshman Principal
5.2.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @5.2    one month ago
don't forget fertilizers - farmers around the world are struggling without them.

I don’t know why, there is more than enough shit to go around.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
5.2.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @5.2.1    one month ago

LOL

 
 

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