ISTANBUL, TURKEY – Despite Russia proclaiming that it has suspended its participation in the United Nations-brokered grain export deal with Ukraine, grain ships continued to exit Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Oct. 31, according to various media reports.

Russia announced its withdrawal from the agreement on Oct. 29 after it claimed that Ukraine, “with the participation of United Kingdom experts,” executed drone attacks on the Crimean city of Sevastopol, including several Russian warships. Ukraine officials have denied any connection to the attack.

The grain export deal, which was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in late July, has allowed the shipment of more than 9 million tonnes of grain and other food exports during the past three months. Prior to the deal, Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, had used a naval blockade to prevent the ships from leaving the Black Sea ports.

If the blockade is reinstated, it will worsen an already growing food insecurity crisis in many of the world’s poorest countries that are dependent on grain imports from the Black Sea region to feed their people. They are not only hurt by the shortage of grain imports but the increase in prices that are the result of global supply. During the five months that Russia prevented grain from being exported from Ukraine, global grain prices reached near-record highs but declined after the grain export deal was reached in late July.

Wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade jumped 6% on Monday to $8.79 a bushel. Corn futures were up 2.64% to $6.98 a bushel. 

The grain export deal was set to expire on Nov. 19, but efforts were already underway to extend the agreement.

Negotiators from Turkey and the United Nations said they are working to bring Russia back into the agreement. Despite Russia’s position, ships continued to move in and out of the corridor on Oct. 31, with 12 vessels outbound and four inbound, according to the United Nations’ Joint Coordination Center for the initiative.

“The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the ongoing situation regarding the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations. “The secretary-general continues to engage in intense contacts aiming at the end of the Russian suspension of its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The same engagement also aims at the renewal and full implementation of the initiative to facilitate exports of food and fertilizer from Ukraine, as well as removing the remaining obstacles to the exports of Russian food and fertilizer.”

Although the grain deal has enabled Ukraine to export more than 9 million tonnes of grains and other food products during the last three months, the war has taken an enormous toll on its ability to export and produce grain. A perennial top-five exporter of wheat and corn, Ukraine is projected to produce only 20.5 million tonnes of wheat in the 2022-23 marketing year, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), which would be the smallest crop in 10 years. It is forecast to export 11 million tonnes, which will be revised downward if Russia reinstates its naval blockade. If realized, it would be the lowest wheat export total since 2013-14. Its corn export totals are also expected to be significantly lower in 2022-23.

Global ending stocks of total grains (wheat and coarse grains) are projected to tighten for the sixth consecutive year, according to the latest International Grains Council (IGC) grain market report released on Oct. 20. The IGC sees endings stocks for the 2022-23 marketing year at 584 million tonnes, a 3% drop from last year’s total.