The Black Sea Grain Initiative is an agreement signed in July 2022 to resume Ukraine's grain exports through the Black Sea route, which were suspended following the Russian-Ukrainian war. On July 17, 2023, Russia declared it ineffective, escalating the global food crisis.
Q. What is the Black Sea Grain Initiative?
A. The Black Sea Grain Initiative is an agreement that ensures the safety of Ukrainian and Russian grain export ships traveling to and from the Black Sea. The agreement ensures that grain exports can continue even during times of war.
Ukraine is an agricultural country, ranking fourth in the world in agricultural exports. It provides 10% of the world's wheat, more than 15 to 20% of barley, and more than 50% of sunflower oil. That's why Ukraine is sometimes called the breadbasket of the world.
Photo source: Yonhap News
A view of a crop farm in Baranove, Odessa Oblast, Ukraine.
However, the blockade of Black Sea ports following Russia's invasion in February of last year cut off grain exports by sea, driving up global grain prices and exacerbating the food crisis. In June of last year, just before the agreement was signed, global wheat prices surged 56.5% year-on-year and corn prices by 15.7%.
The food crisis was particularly acute in countries in the Middle East and Africa that were highly dependent on Ukrainian grain.
Eventually, the UN and Türkiye stepped in to mediate. They got Ukraine and Russia to sign the "Black Sea Grain Initiative." The agreement was signed on July 22, 2022, and in August, the blockade of three Ukrainian ports (Odessa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdenny) was lifted and grain exports by ship resumed.
The UN reported that the agreement has stabilized grain supplies and reduced international grain prices by more than 20%. The agreement has been a boon to developing countries that rely on imported food, such as Egypt and Lebanon. Most importantly, it has given breathing room to the world's hungriest countries, including Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), 775,000 tons of Ukrainian agricultural products have been delivered as a result of the Black Sea Grain Initiative to the world's poorest countries.
The agreement remains in effect for 120 days and is extended automatically for the same period unless one of the signing parties terminates the initiative. Russia and Ukraine have extended the agreement three times since it was signed.
Then, on July 17th, just before the fourth extension, Russia notified its intention of termination. "The Black Sea Grain Initiative is not valid from today," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared, "Unfortunately, part of the conditions for the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative have not been fulfilled, and therefore its effectiveness has ended." This decision of termination has put global food security in serious jeopardy.
Source: United Nations
●Highlights of the Black Sea Grain Initiative
The Black Sea Grain Initiative actually consists of two agreements. One is the "Ukraine- Türkiye -United Nations" agreement, and the other is the "Türkiye -United Nations-Russia" agreement, the latter of which Russia broke.
Representatives from Ukraine, Türkiye, Russia, and the United Nations created a Joint Coordination Center to determine the distance at which warships, planes, and drones could approach the maritime humanitarian corridor.
All ships participating in the agreement are subject to inspections that take place at ports at the Turkish Straits designated by Turkmenistan at the entrance or exit of the Strait of Turkmenistan and are conducted by the Joint Coordination Center (JSC).
After being inspected, ships reach Ukrainian Black Sea ports via the Maritime Humanitarian Corridor. Three Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea are used: Odessa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdeni.
· Top exported grains
Under the Black Sea Grain Initiative to create safe shipping routes, Ukraine was able to export 32.9 million tons of agricultural products, including 16.9 million tons of corn and 8.9 million tons of wheat.
Prior to the conflict, Ukraine exported about 25 to 30 million tons of corn and 16 to 21 million tons of wheat annually, mainly through the Black Sea.
Photo source: UN World Food Programme
A World Food Programme (WFP) wheat cargo ship en route from Ukraine to Afghanistan awaits a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) inspection in the Sea of Marmara.
Q. Why do we need the Black Sea Grain Initiative?
A. Ukraine is the world's fourth largest agricultural country in terms of agricultural exports and a major producer of grain and oilseed raw materials. This means that Ukrainian grain feeds 400 million people around the world.
Ukrainian grains account for 10% of global wheat exports, more than 15-20% of barley, and more than 50% of sunflower oil, and monthly exports of agricultural products through its ports used to be in the range of 5-6 million tons.
However, since the war with Russia, Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea have been blockaded. According to the Ukrainian government, since the war broke out in February 2022, Ukraine has been able to export only 4 million tons of agricultural products in 4 months. That's a quarter of what it used to export.
This has pushed global food prices to record highs and raised fears that a global famine could develop.
This was especially true for the World Food Program (WFP), which provides food to the world's poorest countries. The WFP purchases millions of tons of food products each year, about 75% of which is grain. In 2021, WFP purchased a total of 4.4 million tons from Ukraine, providing 20% of the total.
Majority of the food WFP buys goes to Africa. Therefore, the organization has been sourcing most of its grain from Eastern Europe since it is closer to Africa. Termination of the agreement means WFP will have to find other sources.
Q. Why did Russia decide to terminate the Black Sea Grain Initiative?
A. Russia is currently engulfed in internal and external turmoil. Internally, the country is being pushed to the brink by a mercenary insurgency and externally by Ukraine's counterattack, which is why Russia is unilaterally breaking agreements and weaponizing food.
Russia aims to replace Ukrainian grain with its own, in what it calls a "bumper crop" situation. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 24th that Russia is expecting a record harvest this year, claiming that Russia can replace Ukrainian grain both commercially and free of charge.
The main reasons cited by the Russian government for withdrawing from the agreement were: ▲unfulfilled Western promises to lift restrictions on Russian food and fertilizer exports; and ▲unfulfilled promises to connect the Russian Agricultural Bank Rosselkhozbank to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) system, an international interbank money transfer network.
Since leaving the agreement, Russia has focused its attacks on Odessa, Ukraine, the Black Sea Grain Initiative safe harbor. Russia launched airstrikes on Odessa and Mykolaiv for four consecutive days from the July 18th to the 21st, the day after announcing its withdrawal from the agreement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on July 19th that at least 60,000 tons of grain had been lost in the Russian attacks. According to the World Food Program (WFP), 60,000 tons of grain is enough to feed more than 270,000 people for a year.
Photo source: Yonhap News
A broken global food system
"It is outrageous that in a world of plenty, people continue to suffer and die of hunger," UN Secretary-General Guterres said in his opening speech at the Food Systems Summit in Rome on July 24th.
"The global food system is broken, and billions of people are paying the price," he added, noting that "with the termination of the Black Sea Initiative, the most vulnerable will pay the highest price.”
According to UN estimates, more than 780 million people worldwide are currently experiencing hunger, about a third of all food produced is lost or wasted, and about 300 million people lack access to healthy meals.
Against this backdrop, the collapse of the agreement and the grain deal collapse is hitting the vulnerable populations even harder.
Russia's participation in the initiative may be by choice, but the people suffering in the developing world and everywhere else are not by choice. The world's most vulnerable people are paying the price for the termination of the agreement. Reversing course of this initiative as soon as possible, not as a political decision, but as a humanitarian one, is crucial to global food security.
“To embrace the future,
we must expand the scope of vocations that can herald the coming of peace.
Even though we may never meet our descendants, we must make sure that all their activities will harmonize in peaceful societies and nations.”
-Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon
Founder of Sunhak Peace Prize-
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Written by: Yeon Je Choi
Translated by: Hyang Oh