Ukraine grain shipments offer hope, don’t fix food crisis

BEIRUT (AP) — A ship bringing corn to Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli usually doesn’t cause a stir. But it’s attracting attention because of where it came from: Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa.

Razzoni, loaded with more than 26,000 tons of corn for chicken feed, is emerging from the edges of a Russian war that has threatened food supplies in countries like Lebanon, which has one of the world’s highest rates of food inflation. and depends on the Black Sea region for almost all of its wheat – a staggering 122%.

The fighting has trapped 20 million tons of grain inside Ukraine, and Rajoni’s departure on Monday calls for a way to extract those food supplies and deliver them to farms and bakeries to feed the millions of poor starving people in Africa and the Middle East. Marked the first big step. and parts of Asia.

“It’s a big deal to actually look at shipments,” said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Grow Intelligence. “In the scale of 20 million tons it’s 26,000 tons nothing, absolutely nothing…

The smaller scale means that early shipments leaving the world’s breadbaskets will not drive food prices down or ease the global food crisis any time soon. Also, most of the discarded grains are for animal feed and not for people to eat, experts say. It would extend the effects of war to the world’s most vulnerable thousands of miles away in countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan, where hunger could soon turn into famine and where inflation has pushed food and energy costs out of reach for many. Have given.

For farmers in Lebanon, the shipment expected later this week is a sign that grain may be available again, albeit at a higher price, said Ibrahim Tarachichi, head of the Bekaa Farmers Association.

But he said it would not make a dent in his country, where years of corruption and political divisions have disrupted life. Since 2019, the economy has shrunk by at least 58%, with the currency depreciating so severely that nearly three-quarters of the population now lives in poverty.

“I think the crisis will continue as long as operating costs continue to rise and purchasing power continues to fall,” Taracchi said.

The conflict was on sharp display this week when a section of Beirut’s vast port grain silos collapsed in a giant cloud of dust, two years after an explosion killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more.

While symbolic, the shipments have done little to assuage market concerns. Drought and high fertilizer costs before the COVID-19 pandemic have kept grain prices more than 50% higher than at the beginning of 2020. And while Ukraine is a top supplier of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil to developing countries, it represents just 10% of international wheat trade.

There is also little to suggest that the world’s poorest people who rely on Ukrainian wheat distributed through UN agencies such as the World Food Program will soon have access to them. Before the war, half of the grain purchased for distribution came from Ukraine.

Razzoni’s safe passage was guaranteed by a four-month-long agreement the United Nations and Turkey brokered with Ukraine and Russia two weeks ago. The grain corridor through the Black Sea is 111 nautical miles long and 3 nautical miles wide, with drifting explosive mines dotted with water, slowing work.

Three more ships left for Turkey, Ireland and the United Kingdom on Friday. All the ships that have gone since the start of the war about six months ago are stuck there.

Under the deal, some – not all – of the food exported will go to countries facing food insecurity. That means it could take weeks for people in Africa to see grains from new shipments and even more so to see the impact on food prices, said Sean Ferriss, a Kenya-based consultant of agriculture and markets for Catholic Relief Services, a partner in the world. Food distribution program.

In East Africa, thousands have died as Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya face the worst drought in four decades. Survivors describe burying their children as they fled to camps where little help could be found.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Somalia and other African countries turned to non-traditional grain partners such as India, Turkey and Brazil, but at higher prices. Ferris said the prices of imported foodstuffs and important for the progress of the local crop could begin to decline in two or three months.

Ferris said who is first to get grain from Ukraine may be affected by human needs, but also comes down to the current trade system and commercial interests, including who is willing to pay the most.

“Ukraine is not a charity,” he said. “It will be on the lookout to get the best deals on the market” to maintain its fragile economy.

WFP said this week that it plans to buy 30,000 tonnes of wheat from Ukraine, load and ship it on a UN chartered vessel. It did not say where the ship would go or when that trip might take place.

In Lebanon, where the humanitarian aid group Mercy Corps says the price of wheat flour has risen by more than 200% since the start of Russia’s war, people have been long outside bakeries for subsidized bread in recent days. , often stood in tense lines.

The government approved a World Bank $150 million loan to import wheat, a temporary solution of six to nine months before it is forced to lift subsidies on bread entirely.

While the situation is tough for millions of Lebanese, the country’s nearly 1 million Syrian refugees, who fled the civil war across the border, face stigma and discrimination trying to buy bread.

A Syrian living in northern Lebanon said he often has to go to the bakery three to four times before he can find someone to sell him bread, with a preference for Lebanese. He described waiting lines of 100 people and every half hour only a handful of people were allowed to buy a small bundle of rotis.

“We get all kinds of rude comments because we’re Syrians, which we usually ignore, but sometimes it becomes too much and we end up empty-handed,” he said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. decide to go home.”

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Batrawi reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya.

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