Ukraine – often called the ‘Breadbasket of Europe’ and known for its production of staple grains. Its agricultural exports in 2021 contributed $27 BILLION to the nation’s economy.
In fact, prior to Russia’s invasion, Ukraine was:
- The fifth-largest wheat exporter in the world;
- The fourth-largest corn exporter;
- The third-largest of both barley and rapeseed; and
- The first largest exporter of sunflower oil.1
But the war has dramatically decreased production, threatening Ukraine’s own consumption along with the global food supply.
For almost six months, Ukraine’s ports were blocked by Russia, and their grain exports dropped by more than 40% in 2022 – from 86 million tonnes to 51 million tonnes.2
It wasn’t until the United Nations and Turkey stepped in to broker a deal between Moscow and Kyiv, opening three of Ukraine’s ports, that the war-torn country was able to resume any of its shipments.
However, according to Ukraine and agricultural food experts, the problem is not solved.
In addition to Russia allegedly hindering Ukraine’s shipments by delaying inspections, farmers and Ukrainian soldiers say their military is intentionally firing at their fields.
Yevhen Sytnychenko, head of the military administration in the Kryvyi Rih district, said,
“They see the combines and fire at them… They do it so we won’t have grain, so we cannot eat and cannot export.”
This economic sabotage will reportedly cost farmers and Ukraine’s agribusiness companies $23 billion in lost profits.
Sgt. Serhiy Tarasenko, whose soldiers have been fighting in the farmland south of the city of Kryvyi Rih, said Russia is using drones to target tractors and combines.
“They are shooting at local people collecting the grain,” he said. “These are people who invested their money and now they need to harvest. But they are now doing it under fire, under attack.”
So far, the war has caused more than 3,000 field fires. If Ukraine is unable to push Russia’s military back, some farmers are threatening to stop production altogether.3
And experts are warning that a global hunger crisis is still looming…
The current Black Sea grain deal, which allowed agriculture export shipments to resume last July, is set to expire on March 18th. It cannot be extended unless all parties are in agreement, and Moscow’s foreign ministry has already signaled issues with resigning.4
David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), implored world leaders to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
“It must be renewed at all costs,” Beasley said.
“Ukraine alone feeds 400 million people around the world.”
Prior to the war, the United Nations’ WFP received 40% of its wheat from Ukraine.5 With the growing humanitarian crisis, WFP now supports around three million war-displaced and affected people within Ukraine, delivering food all over the frontline areas, in addition to their previous recipients worldwide.
The war’s devastating consequences on food supply have been felt as far as Lebanon, Sudan, Africa, and Venezuela. The hike in global wheat prices has pushed countries like Somalia and Yemen one step closer to a hunger catastrophe, where many citizens rely on their WFP basket for survival.6
Unfortunately, the next growing season is looking grim.
Land mines and explosive remnants are scattered through farms, making it difficult to enter the fields. The WFP, along with the Food and Agriculture Organization, Ukrainian authorities, and other partners are working together to clear the land of such dangers. However, it will likely take decades to clear all the mines and explosives from Ukraine once the war is over.
This coupled with an expiring export agreement is leading to growing uncertainty and doubt in the global wheat market.