GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — A new United Nations report underscores support for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, noting it has helped less-developed countries feed their populations and settle global grain prices amid uncertainty caused by the ongoing war in Ukraine and the deal’s looming Nov. 19 expiration.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and subsequent blockade of Black Sea ports raised fears of a global food crisis as crucial wheat supplies from two of the world’s largest exporters were cut off and fertilizer from Russia stopped flowing. The Black Sea Grain Initiative was brokered by the UN and Turkey with Ukraine and Russia in July, and the results have proven its value, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report released on Oct. 20.

“The UN-led initiative has helped to stabilize and subsequently lower global food prices and move precious grain from one of the world’s breadbaskets to the tables of those in need,” the report said. “Wheat and maize prices are still at historically high levels, which continues to weigh on the affordability of basic foods and poses a risk to food security the world over. This is one more reason why the renewal of the initiative on 20 November is important for developing countries.”

The report was produced with contributions from the Joint Coordination Centre for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, comprised of senior representatives from Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the UN, which ensures the safe maritime transportation of grain and other foodstuffs from the three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea to the rest of the world.

The initiative — which opened the seaports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi/Yuzhny — is credited with increased port activity in Ukraine and large shipments of grain reaching world markets. The deal also involves increasing the flow of crucial fertilizers from Russia. 

As of Oct. 19, nearly 8 million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs has been exported through the initiative, with corn and wheat accounting for 72% of the shipments, and sunflower oil another 7%. The report notes that while shipments remain 40% to 50% below pre-war numbers, the trend has been in the right direction since July.

Nearly 20% of the 2.35 million tonnes of wheat exports have gone to least developed countries (LDCs) with vulnerable populations. The initiative doubled the amount of wheat shipped to LDCs between August and September – about half a million tonnes. 

“Nevertheless, wheat exports to LDCs between January and September 2022 have totaled less than 1 million tonnes,” the report said. “This implies an export gap of 1.2 million tonnes with respect to 2021. The size of the gap may vary from country to country.”

Ukraine has called for the renewal of the initiative, but concerns over whether Russia will agree to an extension beyond the Nov. 19 deadline have grown recently. Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, last week told Reuters that Moscow had delivered a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres setting out a list of complaints about the initiative.

“In a context where trade is very uncertain, signals matter very much,” said Rebeca Grynspan, UNCTAD secretary-general. “When there is no clarity, no one knows what is going to happen, and speculation and hoarding take over.”