Thursday

1st Dec 2022

Unblocking Black Sea 'only solution' to prevent food crisis

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky last week warned that up to 60 million tonnes of grain could be stuck in the country by the autumn if no solution is found to the blockade of seaports in the Black Sea (Photo: Jan Fidler)
Listen to article

As the summer harvest season begins in Ukraine during wartime, farmers face multiple challenges — while a hunger catastrophe looms.

Ukraine is one of the world's biggest exporters of agricultural goods, but the country's export capacity has significantly decreased since the war began in late February.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The Russian blockade of seaports in the BlackSea is holding back thousands of tonnes of grain from being exported. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky last week warned that up to 60 million tonnes of grain could be stuck in the country by the autumn if no alternative solution is found.

But alternative rail and river routes are seen as insufficient to make up for the amount of wheat and grain normally transported by sea.

"The only solution is deblocking the Black Sea," Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun, deputy leader of the Holos Party, told EUobserver on Monday (11 July).

The EU has focused most of its efforts on increasing exports via land corridors, but this was not making a "systemic difference," Sovsun said.

Differing rail-gauge widths between Ukraine and most EU member states is one of the major obstacles to the re-routing of Ukrainian agricultural exports by land.

"Helping us to destroy the Russian fleet in the Black Sea would be the best solution, but … it is easier for the EU to be more flexible when dealing with Russia — and unfortunately Russia exploits that," Sovsun added.

Solidarity lines

About 1.7 million tonnes of grain have flowed through the Ukrainian-Romanian border and the Ukrainian-Polish border since the EU put forward the so-called solidarity lines. But they are only "partially functioning," German centre-right MEP Norbert Lins told MEPs from the agriculture committee on Monday.

Lins argued that only 138,000 tonnes of wheat have come through the two borders, while most of the feed remains in Ukraine's neighbouring states. Yet, no trade between Ukraine and third countries is happening.

"There's an obvious market failure" that requires market action because there are some problems building up in Poland and Romania and the crisis of hunger is growing, Lins added. "We need to have more intervention, more coordination".

Summer season

Ukrainian farmers have already threshed the first million tonnes of grain from the summer season — and logistical export-related problems and limited storage have prompted international efforts to boost temporary silos and prevent massive losses of cereals.

Ukraine has lost 14.1 million metric tonnes of storage capacity as a result of the Russian invasion — while 30 percent of the available capacity remains filled with last year's harvest.

Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine exported some five to six million tonnes of grain per month, mainly via the Black Sea.

Ukraine exported 322,000 metric tons in March, 970,000 in April, 1.2 million in May and over 1 million in June, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Meanwhile, large-scale fires are occurring, as a result of shelling agricultural land.

Russian troops set 20 hectares of Ukrainian grain fields on fire last week, according to Ukraine's official sources. But Sovsun said that these attacks cannot be considered "systematic" — at least not yet.

Meanwhile, increasing prices of seeds, weedkillers, fertilisers and fuels are increasing the burden on farmers — driving up food prices.

Global food prices have been increasing since the start of the pandemic. But export disruption in Ukraine has pushed prices even higher, increasing the risk of hunger in some African countries, Southern Asia, and the Middle East.

Echoing Ukrainian concerns, UN humanitarian aid coordinator Martin Griffiths said that unblocking Black Sea ports is the only option to prevent global hunger.

"As food insecurity mounts around the world, opening the Black Sea route is our best bet to mitigate global hunger," he tweeted on Sunday.

'Not a threat, at the moment'

The European Commission will update member states next Monday (18 July) on the current situation in European agricultural markets and food security.

"From a food security perspective, the situation could prove to be challenging … but food security and food supply are not a threat in the EU at the moment," reads an internal document seen by EUobserver.

Yet, Lins said this year's harvest forecasts in Europe had been revised downwards.

The UN previously warned that the war in Ukraine could lead to between eight and 13 million more people being undernourished next year.

EU urged to grow more wheat to avert food crisis

European agriculture ministers have called for higher domestic farm output, amid food security worries, and a looming food crisis in Africa. Many African countries, eg Benin, Egypt, Sudan, Madagascar, and Burundi, are almost entirely, or exclusively, dependent on Ukrainian grain.

EU states warn of looming food-price crisis

Prices of cereals, fertilisers, and oilseed have shot up drastically in several European markets due to Russia's war on Ukraine, prompting some member states to seek EU aid.

EU seeks to ease Ukraine export woes

The EU wants to expand its so-called 'solidarity lanes' to help Ukraine exports its goods towards member states. EU officials briefing reporters say around 2.6 million tonnes of Ukrainian agricultural goods were exported via such lanes in August.

Exclusive

Chorus of EU concern on low harvests plus rocketing prices

High prices of energy, fuels, fertilisers and feed are pushing up agricultural production costs and harming farm profitability in several European markets due to Russia's war on Ukraine, prompting some member states to seek further EU support.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  2. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  3. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  4. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  5. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  6. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  7. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  8. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us