ISTANBUL, TURKEY — Russia on May 17 agreed to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative for two months, just hours before it was due to expire, according to Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Erdogan, who along with the United Nations helped broker the deal last July as well as several subsequent extensions, in a press conference praised Russia and Ukraine, who have been at war for nearly 16 months, for their roles in making the extension a reality.

For the first five months after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian navy blockaded Ukrainian ports, which prevented shipments of grain and other products from one of the world’s top wheat, corn and sunflower oil exporters. During that time, grain prices soared to near-record levels and food insecurity worsened, according to the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP). Although grain prices have declined since the deal was signed in July, food inflation and insecurity have persisted, according to the WFP.

Russia in recent days had expressed concerns that Western economic sanctions had limited its ability to export fertilizer and other agricultural products and indicated that it would not extend the agreement unless those concerns were addressed. Erdogan did not indicate during his speech whether Russia received any concessions prior to agreeing to the latest extension.

More than 30 million tonnes of grain have been shipped from Ukraine since the Black Sea Grain Initiative was signed in July, according to the United Nations. That is still well below the totals during the same period in recent years. 

Speaking at a daily press briefing, UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed Russia’s decision to continue its involvement in the initiative.

"I want to convey my appreciation to all those taking part in the negotiations in a spirit of constructive engagement," he said. "I once again express my gratitude to President Erdoğan and the government of Turkey for their efforts – working in permanent coordination with the United Nations. Vital food supplies are reaching some of the world’s most vulnerable people and places."

Nikolay Gorbachov, president of the Ukrainian Grain Association, told Reuters on May 16 that the upcoming corn harvest is forecast to fall to 21.1 million tonnes, down from 27.3 million tonnes the previous season due to a lower planted area. He said corn exports are expected to drop to 19 million tonnes in 2023-24, down 30% from an expected 27 million tonnes in 2022-23.

Ukraine’s wheat crop is projected to fall to 17 million tonnes from 20.2 million last year. Of this, 14 million tonnes could be exported in the upcoming season, down from 15.5 million in 2022-23, Gorbachov said.

Look for more details about the extension in World Grain’s daily newsletter on May 18.