U.S. officials say they are working with Ukraine to export at least three million tons of grain to combat the world's growing hunger crisis, especially in Africa. Before Russia's invasion, Ukraine was exporting six million tons of grain a month. But Russia's Black Sea naval blockade means grain that could feed 400 million people is stuck in Ukraine.
Ukraine is stuck with millions of tons of grains in the country, unable to export to the rest of the world, which is facing food shortages and high food prices due to Russia’s invasion of the country.
Jim O’Brien, the head of the State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination says there is enough food to feed millions, but Russia’s invasion makes it difficult to get it out of the country.
“So, there are 20 million tons of grain sitting in Ukraine right now waiting to get out. And again, in a normal year, all of that would already be on the market, and it’s not, and there’s one reason. Now, there are many reasons that there is a global trend that food security is weakened … But it’s 20 million tons, which could feed 200 to 400 million people. That's just waiting on Russia’s decision.”
Russia and Ukraine are the grain basket of the world, and the two countries export a quarter of the world's grains.
Experts say grain shortages in other countries dependent on Ukraine grains are creating high food prices and supply chain problems.
On Thursday, Senegalese President and African Union Chairperson Macky Sall urged Ukraine to demine the Odesa port to help with grain exports.
Speaking with French media France 24 and RFI, Sall said if Africa does not get wheat from Ukraine, the continent will be in a famine that can create instability.
O’Brien notes Russia is reducing Ukraine’s ability to produce its own food and food for the world.
“Ukraine used to export 6 million or so tons of grain a month, mostly to the Global South. And now that has had to stop; in March and April, it was very small. With our European partners, we’re working very hard to get out as much grain as possible, but at best, it will probably be about half what it was before, and that’s because Russia has occupied or destroyed 30-odd percent of Ukraine’s grain-producing capability. It is attacking grain storage and processing facilities.”
The rise in food and fuel prices and a drought, which has not been seen in east Africa in 40 years, is making some 20 million people hungry.
West Africa and the Sahel region are also affected because the countries rely on wheat imports from the two countries.
U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security Dr. Cary Fowler says his country is supporting African countries to reduce hunger.
“So, we’ve made great efforts to try to, in an emergency situation, to provide more humanitarian assistance, but we’ve also announced somewhat longer-term measures. I mentioned earlier that our... one of our flagship programs at the U.S. Agency for International Development is our Feed the Future program that involves quite a few countries around the world, but really focuses on – in a very intense way on about a dozen countries, I believe eight of which are in Africa. We expect that program to be expanded.”
The U.S. accuses Russia of stealing Ukraine’s food and selling it to friendly countries.
Samuel Nyandemo teaches economics at the University of Nairobi. He says Africa will refuse to buy stolen grain from Russia but will look for other markets to beat the demand for food.
“I don’t think whether there is any African country willing to buy stolen grains from Ukraine sold by Russia. They will look for better alternatives, particularly from Argentina and other Latin American countries which are also producing those grains. The best solution here is that Russia should come to the table with Ukraine, and they solve this thing diplomatically.”
U.S. officials say they are working with Ukraine’s neighbors and the European Union to get as much grain out of the country as possible and support the initiative to lift the blockade on the Odesa port.