Ukraine is ordinarily one of the largest producers of wheat in the world, producing over 33 million metric tonnes of the staple food in 2021, and exporting billions of dollars’ worth to Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon and other countries in the Global South.
Ukraine is being forced by the European Union to export wheat reserves, notwithstanding fears of shortages at home associated with the current crisis, a former employee of the Port of Odessa with direct knowledge of the situation has told Sputnik.
“The limited operation of the Port of Odessa does not allow for the export of a large part of grain crops by sea. Under pressure from the EU, an alternative route has been created through the ports of Reni and Izmail, from where they [are] taken further along the Danube River. This is being done notwithstanding the real threat of a shortage of wheat within Ukraine itself, considering the real prospect of a disruption of the harvest this year,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
It’s been estimated that up to 20 percent of Ukraine’s nutrient-rich farmland has been directly affected by NATO’s proxy conflict against Russia. The disruption of logistics, labour shortages, and damage to crops in fighting has threatened to increase the damage further.
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was negotiating an agreement under which Russia, Turkey and other nations may facilitate the export of Ukrainian food staples to stave off global shortages.
Commenting on the report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the issue was complicated by the mining of Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, making shipping difficult.
Peskov confirmed that Guterres and President Putin had discussed the matter at a recent meeting, and that the UN chief told the Russian president that direct and indirect restrictions imposed by the West against Russian fertilizers had created ‘grave’ dangers for global food security.
Last week, President Biden announced plans to ship over 20 million tonnes out of Ukraine to tackle the danger of global food shortages. Russian Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin slammed the proposal as an attempt to arrange artificial food shortages in Ukraine itself.
In late April, the Russian military reported that Ukrainian authorities were already stepping up road and rail export of wheat, corn, oil crops and farm animals to European destinations despite threats of shortages of foodstuffs and even seeds for the spring sowing campaign in Ukraine itself.
Together, Russia and Ukraine account for a massive percentage of many global food staples, including about 30 percent of wheat and 20 percent of corn exports. Russian exports of wheat to the world market have continued unabated amid the Ukraine crisis, rising year-on-year by nearly 60 percent in March.
At a meeting with economic officials last week, Putin announced plans to increase Russian wheat exports dramatically if expectations of a record harvest at home mature. “If this happens, which we are counting on, it could be an all-time record [for the wheat crop] in Russian history,” Putin said.
Russia expects a grains harvest of 130 million tonnes in 2022, with 87 million tonnes of that being wheat. Russia’s main customers of wheat include Egypt, Turkey, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Ilya Tsukanov is a Moscow-based correspondent specializing in Eastern European, US and Middle Eastern politics, Cold War history, energy security and military affairs. Member of the Sputnik team since the site's inception in 2014.
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