Last Updated: July 17, 2023, 6:21 PM IST
Russia suspended the Black Sea Grain Initiative on Monday, impacting grain flow from Ukraine to regions in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, where hunger and rising food prices are pressing concerns. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia would resume the agreement’s implementation once its demands concerning food and fertilizer exports are met.
Despite complaints about shipping and insurance restrictions on agricultural exports, Russia has shipped record quantities of wheat. “When the part of the Black Sea deal related to Russia is implemented, Russia will immediately return to the implementation of the deal,” Peskov was quoted as saying by AP.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, had been instrumental in facilitating the flow of food from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This initiative was crucial in alleviating the global food crisis that worsened due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. By providing assurances that ships would not be attacked when entering or leaving Ukrainian ports, the deal helped stabilize soaring prices of wheat, vegetable oil, and other food commodities.
On Monday, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen condemned Russia’s announced exit from the Ukraine grain export deal and branded the move “cynical”. “I strongly condemn Russia’s cynical move to terminate the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” she tweeted.
Britain said it was “disappointing” and accused Russia of risking global “suffering”. “Clearly that is very disappointing,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman told reporters following the Kremlin announcement, adding Moscow “will be robbing millions of people of access to vital grain”.
Both Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of essential food products, such as wheat, barley, and sunflower oil, which developing nations heavily rely on. The agreement allowed for the movement of Russian food and fertilizer and eased shipping restrictions that had previously hampered Russia’s agricultural exports.
However, despite the benefits it brought to the global food market, the Black Sea Grain Initiative faced challenges from the beginning, with Russia briefly pulling out of the deal in November before rejoining and extending it.
The suspension of the deal has already affected the global grain market, with wheat prices rising by approximately 3% in Chicago trading. While experts don’t expect a prolonged spike in food commodity prices, the overall food insecurity around the world continues to grow.
For developing countries, rising food prices disproportionately affect vulnerable populations as they spend a larger portion of their income on meals. Moreover, countries relying on imported food, priced in dollars, face increased expenses as their currencies weaken due to economic challenges and the impacts of climate change. Regions like Somalia, Kenya, Morocco, and Tunisia, which are already grappling with droughts, are among those struggling the most.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative played a crucial role in stabilizing food prices, but its suspension will compound the challenges faced by countries burdened with high debt levels and climate-related issues.