Moscow’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, is triggering a food crisis that will affect Europe, Asia and Africa. Vladimir Putin’s war is also stopping his own country’s trade – posing further danger to regions highly dependent on the two nations, which together account for nearly a third of global wheat and barley exports.
Ukraine, once an agricultural powerhouse, could lose tens of millions of tonnes of grain, Mr Zelensky said on Monday.
He told the Australian news programme 60 Minutes: “Russia does not let ships come in or go out, it is controlling the Black Sea.
“Russia wants to completely block our country’s economy.”
Ukraine, one of the world’s most fertile and productive countries, is a top exporter of grain to Asia, Europe and Africa.
Now, however, the small seed cannot be shipped out from its ports by sea, formerly the route for 90 percent of farm exports.
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And ports are only one part of the problem.
The United Nations estimates 20 to 30 percent of the fields normally used for winter cereals, corn and sunflower seeds will go unplanted or unharvested for this year’s coming season.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government reported that several hundred thousand tons of grain were seized from occupied territories in the southern and eastern Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions.
The range of issues caused by Russia’s invasion is due to severely impact Ukraine’s ability to feed itself. However, people across the world who rely on Ukrainian exports are set to feel it, too.
About half of the grain the World Food Program (WFP), the UN’s food assistance agency, buys to feed 125 million people worldwide comes from the war-torn nation. Its mission is now at stake.
According to the WFP, depressed wheat exports from the conflict will add to rising food prices, creating a “recipe for catastrophe not just in Ukraine, but potentially globally”.
Some of those most heavily dependent on Russia and Ukraine for wheat, such as Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar, already struggled before the war.
Difficulty to feed their populations is only being exacerbated.
A UN agency last month said the attacks on Ukraine sent food commodity prices soaring in March – hitting the highest levels it has ever recorded.
The UN Food Prices Index, which tracks monthly changes in the international prices of a “basket of commonly-traded food commodities”, averaged 159.3 points, showing a 12.6 percent hike from February, which already saw the highest level since the organisation began tracking sixty years ago.
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The figure, 33.6 percent higher than it was last March, reflects the “shocks” brought by the conflict to markets for “staple grains and vegetable oils”.
These rises in food prices, the World Bank warned, could lead to a “human catastrophe”, as hundreds of millions of people could be pushed into lower nutrition and poverty.
Amid forecasts of a 37 percent jump in food prices, World Bank president David Malpass said the poor, who will “eat less and have less money for anything else such as schooling”, will be hit hardest.
This, he stressed, makes it “an unfair kind of crisis… that was true also of Covid”.
He told the BBC: “It’s a human catastrophe, meaning nutrition goes down.
“But then it also becomes a political challenge for governments who can’t do anything about it, they didn’t cause it and they see the prices going up.”
In the UK, shoppers concerned about the shortage of sunflower oil have been on a stockpiling mission similar to the one seen in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic with toilet paper, among other staple products.
As a result of the fear incited by millions of tonnes of sunflower oil earmarked for foreign buyers being trapped in Ukraine, some supermarkets restricted the number of bottles that can be bought per customer.
Tesco, for instance, introduced a buying limit of three bottles across its entire cooking oil range in April.
It did so following in the footsteps of Morrisons and Waitrose, which had already limited purchases to two a person.
Iceland, meanwhile, rationed sunflower oil sales to one bottle per client.
The price of cooking oils and fats went up 7 percent and is nearly a quarter more expensive than a year ago, the Office for National Statistics said on April 13.