ISTANBUL — Three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports on Friday, the latest sign that a brokered deal is slowly moving forward to export the grain that has been stuck since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly six years ago. month.
But major hurdles await us in getting food to the countries that need it most.
The ships are bound for Ireland, the United Kingdom and Turkey. They are tracking the first shipment of grain to cross the Black Sea since the start of the war. The ship’s passage, heading for Lebanon earlier this week, was the first under the groundbreaking deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The Black Sea region is dubbed the breadbasket of the world, with Ukraine and Russia being the world’s main suppliers of wheat, maize, barley and sunflower oil on which millions of poor people in Africa depend. , the Middle East and parts of Asia for their survival.
While the shipments have raised hopes of easing a global food crisis, much of the grain Ukraine tries to export is used for animal feed, not human consumption, experts say.
The first ships to leave are among more than a dozen bulk carriers and cargo ships laden with grain but stuck in Black Sea ports since Russia invaded in late February. And the shipments are unlikely to have a significant impact on the world price of corn, wheat and soybeans for several reasons.
For starters, exports under the deal are starting slowly and cautiously due to the threat of explosive mines floating off Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
And while Ukraine is a major wheat exporter to developing countries, there are other countries, such as the United States and Canada, with much higher production levels that can affect world wheat prices. . And they face the threat of drought.
“Ukraine accounts for about 10% of international wheat trade, but in terms of production it’s not even 5%,” said David Laborde, an agriculture and trade expert at the International Policy Research Institute. food in Washington.
The three ships left on Friday with more than 58,000 tonnes of corn, but that is still only a fraction of the 20 million tonnes of grain that Ukrainian officials say are trapped in silos and ports across the country and must be shipped to make room for this year’s crop. .
About 6 million tonnes of trapped grain is wheat, but only half is for human consumption, Laborde said.
Ukraine is expected to produce 30-40% less grain over the next 12 months due to the war, although other estimates put the figure at 70%.
Grain prices peaked after the Russian invasion, and although some have since returned to pre-war levels, they are still higher than before the covid-19 pandemic. Corn prices are 70% higher than at the end of February 2020, said Jonathan Haines, principal analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. He said wheat prices were about 60% higher than in February 2020.
One of the reasons prices remain high is the impact of drought on crops in North America, China and other regions, as well as the higher price of fertilizers needed for farming.
“When fertilizer prices are high, farmers may use less fertilizer. And when they use less fertilizer, they will produce less. And if they produce less, the supply will remain insufficient,” Laborde said.
The three ships that left Ukraine on Friday raise further hope that exports will increase to developing countries, where many face the heightened threat of food shortages and hunger.
“The movement of three additional vessels overnight is a very positive sign and will continue to build confidence that we are heading in the right direction,” Haines said. “If the grain flow from Ukraine continues to increase, it will help ease global supply constraints.”
The Navi Star, flying the Panamanian flag, left the port of Odessa for Ireland with 33,000 tonnes of maize. The Rojen, flying the Maltese flag, left Chornomorsk for the UK with over 13,000 tonnes of maize. And the Polarnet, flying the Turkish flag, carrying 12,000 tonnes of maize, left the port of Chornomorsk bound for Karasu, Turkey, the UN said.
He added that the Joint Coordination Center – headed by Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and UN officials overseeing the agreement signed in Istanbul last month – cleared the three vessels and inspected a vessel bound for the Ukraine. The Fulmar S, flying the flag of Barbados, was inspected in Istanbul and is heading for the port of Chornomorsk.
The checks aim to ensure that outgoing cargo ships only carry grain, fertilizer or food and not other goods, and that incoming ships do not carry weapons. The ships are accompanied by Ukrainian pilot ships for safe passage due to explosive mines scattered in the Black Sea.
After Turkey, which has relations with Russia and Ukraine, helped broker the food deal two weeks ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin later Friday in Sochi, in Russia. This meeting follows another face-to-face meeting the two leaders had in Iran three weeks ago.