The Deliberate Sabotage of Food Supply by Russia Might Lead to a Humanitarian Catastrophe
At a time when many people throughout the globe are already on the verge of starvation, Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the world's breadbasket, is a direct assault on the world's impoverished population.
Ukraine is a significant contributor to the global grain supply. The country's primary agricultural products are wheat, maize, and barley, all of which are exported. According to the European Commission, Ukraine is responsible for 10 percent of the global market for wheat, 15 percent of the market for maize, and 13 percent of the market for barley.
Huge ships transporting wheat and other crops from Ukraine are now backed up along the Bosporus here in Istanbul as they are waiting to be inspected before continuing to ports all over the globe.
As a direct result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine ten months ago and the subsequent installation of a naval blockade, the number of ships passing through this narrow strait, which connects Black Sea ports to wider seas, has decreased dramatically. This strait is the only connection between the Black Sea ports and the wider seas. Diplomatic pressure has resulted in Moscow letting some ships through, but the vast bulk of Ukrainian exports are still restricted. Together, Russia and Ukraine exported one-fifth of the world's wheat.
And at the few Ukrainian ports operating, Russia's missile and drone assaults on Ukraine's electricity system occasionally disable the grain terminals where wheat and maize are loaded onto ships. These attacks take place at the few Ukrainian ports that are active.
The Russian conflict has had a number of far-reaching implications, one of the most far-reaching being a protracted worldwide food crisis that has contributed to widespread famine, poverty, and untimely mortality.
The United States and its allies are doing their best to mitigate the damage. Officials from the United States are coordinating efforts to assist Ukrainian farmers in shipping food out of their nation through barges going up the Danube River and rail and road networks that link to Eastern Europe.
But as the harsh winter comes in and Russia continues to intensify its attacks on the infrastructure of Ukraine, the issue is worsening. A prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa and exceptionally severe weather in other areas are contributing factors that make food shortages even worse.
The World Food Program of the United Nations estimates that the number of people suffering from or in danger of severe food insecurity has increased to more than 345 million, which is more than twice the amount from 2019.
Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state for the United States, said earlier this month in Washington, during a conference with African leaders, "We are dealing today with a tremendous food insecurity catastrophe." As we are all aware, he remarked, "It's the result of a number of different things, and one of those things is Russia's assault towards Ukraine."
A great deal of suffering is being inflicted on people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas as a result of food shortages and rising costs. Because of the rise in prices, major food importers like Egypt and Lebanon, as well as other countries, are having trouble meeting their financial obligations and other expenditures. Even in wealthier nations like the United States and Britain, poorer people are not getting enough to eat due to skyrocketing inflation caused partly by the interruptions caused by the conflict. Officials in the United States are particularly concerned about Afghanistan and Yemen since both countries have been severely damaged by conflict.
"By attacking Ukraine, the world's breadbasket, Putin is attacking the world's poor, spiking global hunger when people are already on the brink of famine," said Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.
The U.S. and its allies are making heroic efforts to contain the disaster. U.S. authorities are preparing aid for Ukrainian farmers to export food via Eastern European rail, road networks, and boats on the Danube.
On the 20th of December, Mr. Blinken declared that the United States government would begin providing global blanket exceptions to its economic sanctions programs to enable the continued flow of food supplies and other assistance. The move is made to avoid the possibility of businesses and organizations refraining from aid out of concern about violating U.S. sanctions.
According to the State Department, it was the most dramatic shift in American sanctions policy. The United Nations Security Council passed sanctions resolutions with comparable language last month.
On the other hand, Russia's deliberate interference in the global food supply raises a whole other set of concerns.
Before the war, Russia was the most significant fertilizer supplier to other countries. Moscow has placed restrictions on its own exports, which has led to an increase in prices abroad. Most importantly, it has halted fertilizer sales, which is essential for farmers all around the globe.
Between the months of March and November, Ukraine exported an average of 3.5 million metric tons of grains and oilseeds per month, as reported by the country's Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food. Compared to the five million to seven million metric tons per month that it shipped before the outbreak of the crisis in February, this indicates a huge decline. The military operations it has been conducting in Ukraine have also considerably impacted the surrounding area.
This number would be much lower if it weren't for an agreement struck in July by the United Nations, Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine named the Black Sea Grain Initiative. As part of this deal, Russia agreed to authorize exports from three seaports located inside Ukraine.
Seven of Ukraine's 13 ports remain inaccessible because Russia continues to close them. (Of the 18 ports that belong to Ukraine, five are located in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.) In addition to the three that are operating on the Black Sea, there are another three that are operational on the Danube.
The duration of the agreement was initially limited to four months, but in November, it was extended for another four months. According to Isobel Coleman, a deputy administrator at USAID, global food prices increased by five to six percent in October after Russia threatened to withdraw from the agreement.
She said that the impacts of this conflict are very disruptive on a global scale. "Millions of people are falling further into poverty because of Putin."
Although rises in the cost of food have been especially severe in certain regions, such as the Middle East, North Africa, and South America, during the last year, no area has been immune to the problem.
Prior to the start of the conflict, food prices had already skyrocketed to their highest levels in over a decade. This was due to widespread disruptions in the supply chain caused by a pandemic and persistent drought.
Drought has plagued the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, three of the most important grain-producing countries in the world, for the last three years in a row. Because of the significant drop in water level in the Mississippi River, barges that normally transport grain from the United States to ports have been temporarily stranded.
As a result of the decline in the value of various global currencies relative to the dollar, a number of nations have been compelled to purchase a lower quantity of food from overseas suppliers than in previous years.
According to authorities from the United States, the Russian military committed what may be considered a war crime by purposefully attacking grain storage facilities in Ukraine and destroying wheat processing units.
The conflict in Ukraine has forced many farmers off their land, and the infrastructure necessary to process wheat and sunflower oil for export has been destroyed. As a result, wheat and sunflower oil cannot be exported.
Forty of the farm's 350 workers have enrolled in the army, and the property is located around 300 kilometers (190 miles) south of Kyiv. In addition to this, the farm is experiencing difficulties due to other shortages. According to Kees Huizinga, the Dutch co-owner, Russia's strikes on the electricity infrastructure have resulted in the closure of a facility that supplies nitrogen fertilizer to his farm and others.
As a direct consequence of the conflict, natural gas prices skyrocketed throughout the course of the previous year, which caused a number of fertilizer facilities in Europe to be compelled to either cease output entirely or significantly reduce it. The use of natural gas is essential in the manufacture of fertilizer.
In November, Mr. Huizinga said, "the harvest for this year has already been lowered." And if Russians keep behaving this way, the crop from the next year might be considerably worse.
In addition, he said that the expenses of transportation for farmers in Ukraine had significantly increased.
The concession that Russia made regarding shipping across the Black Sea was helpful, but he feels that Moscow is hindering operations by reducing the frequency of inspections.
Under the terms of the agreement, any ship that sails out of one of three Ukrainian ports located on the Black Sea must pass through joint inspection teams comprised of personnel from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations once it reaches Istanbul.
Ismini Palla, a spokesperson for the United Nations office that is in charge of supervising the program, said that the teams search for any illicit cargo or crew members, and boats that are headed to Ukraine need to be devoid of goods.
According to statistics provided by the United Nations, the number of inspections carried out every week has decreased as of late. Ms. Palla said the parties had agreed to send three teams each day, adding that the United Nations had requested more.
"Ukrainian exports continue to be essential in the fight against worldwide food poverty." she said, " we hope this will change soon so that the Ukrainian ports can run again at a greater capacity." "We hope that this will change soon."
According to Ms. Palla, the decision made in November by the parties to prolong the agreement led to a decrease in the price of wheat throughout the world of 2.8 percent.
An indicator that the United Nations created, food costs have decreased over the last six months from the highs achieved this spring. However, this year's totals are still much greater than in years past.
The rapidly rising cost of fertilizer, one of the most significant expenses for farmers, presents them with a challenge this winter.
The increased costs have been passed on to consumers by farmers in the form of higher prices for food goods. In addition, many farmers are decreasing the fertilizer they use for their crops. Because of this, agricultural yields in the next growing seasons will be reduced, which will drive up the cost of food.
Ms. Coleman said that subsistence farms, responsible for producing approximately one-third of the world's food, are being impacted even harder.
At their November conference in Bali, Indonesia, leaders from the Group of 20 countries expressed grave concern about threats to global food security and vowed to back measures to keep food supply chains running smoothly. At the conference, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization, said, "We need to deepen trade cooperation, not diminish it."
About two billion dollars are spent each year by the United States government on ensuring food security around the world. In response to the most recent major food crisis, which occurred in 2010, the United States government initiated a program called Feed the Future, which is now being implemented in twenty countries.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, the United States government has contributed more than $11 billion to help alleviate the food crisis. This includes a program called AGRI-Ukraine that has a budget of one hundred million dollars and has helped approximately one thousand three hundred farmers in Ukraine, which is approximately twenty-seven percent of the total, gain access to financing, technology, transportation, seeds, fertilizer, bags, and mobile storage units, according to Ms. Coleman.
Because agriculture accounts for one-fifth of Ukraine's GDP and one-fifth of the nation's workforce, these initiatives may assist in alleviating the global food crisis while contributing to the country's reconstruction.
She said "it is crucial for Ukraine's economy" and "for the continued economic existence of Ukraine."