KYIV, UKRAINE — The Black Sea Grain Initiative was extended on March 18 but by only 60 days, according to the United Nations, which along with Turkey has brokered the deal between Ukraine and Russia, which have been at war for nearly 13 months.
The deal, which was first agreed to on July 24, 2022, and renewed last November, has allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat. After invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Russia imposed a naval blockade of Ukrainian ports that lasted for five months until the deal was reached last July. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn, sunflower oil and other agricultural products.
The United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the most recent extension, which they had hoped would be for four months but instead will only be for two as Russia warned it would not extend it any further unless Western economic sanctions against the country were softened.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted on March 18 that the deal would remain in effect for the longer, four-month period. But Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian news agency Tass that Moscow “agreed to extend the deal for 60 days.”
“Any claim that it’s prolonged for more than 60 days is either wishful thinking or deliberate manipulation,” Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, said.
According to an Associated Press report, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the UN Security Council on March 17 that the UN has to recognize it has “no leverage to exempt Russian agricultural export operations from Western sanctions,” and therefore Russia would only extend the deal until May 18.
“If Brussels, Washington and London are genuinely interested to continue the export of food from Ukraine through the maritime humanitarian corridor, then they have two months to exempt from their sanctions the entire chain of operations that accompany the Russian agricultural sector,” Nebenzia said. “Otherwise, we fail to understand how the package concept of the secretary-general of the United Nations will work through these simple agreements.”
The UN noted that since the signing of the Initiative, nearly 25 million tonnes of grains and foodstuffs have been moved to 45 countries, and the initiative has been credited with helping to calm global food prices, which reached vertiginous highs in March 2022. Following the implementation of the Initiative, prices began to fall and, a year later, had dropped some 18%.
However, even with the deal in place, Ukraine is forecast to export only 13.5 million tonnes of wheat in 2022-23, which would be the lowest total since the 2014-15 marketing year, according to data from the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture.
The war also has taken its toll on agricultural production in Ukraine.
In 2022, Ukraine harvested 67 million tonnes of grains and oilseeds, 30% lower compared to the previous year, the Ukrainian Agri Council estimated. The farmers hope to maintain this production level this year, but in the current circumstance, this looks highly unlikely.
Andriy Dykun, head of the Ukrainian Agri Council and SaveUA Charity Fund, told World Grain that farmers sowed 26% less hectares of winter crops compared to the fall of 2021 in the territories controlled by Ukraine and 43% compared with the total figure planted in the previous year. The spring sowing campaign also is expected to be a big challenge.
“According to farmers, grain production (in 2023) will decrease by 37% compared to 2022 and 60% compared to 2021,” Dykun said.