The renewal of the international agreement on Ukrainian grain exports, which depends on a green light from Moscow, is crucial for millions of people in the Horn of Africa, the UN warned on Monday. The agreement, which expires in July, has enabled more than 32 million tonnes of grain to be shipped out of Ukraine.
Millions of people in the Horn of Africa – where people are already starving – are depending on Russia giving the green light to the Ukrainian grain export deal, which expires in mid-July, the UN warned on Monday June 26.
“If the Black Sea Initiative is not renewed, East Africa (will) be hit very hard,” said Dominique Ferretti, emergency specialist at the World Food Programme’s (WFP) regional office for Africa, in a video conference from Nairobi.
“A number of countries depend on Ukrainian wheat. Without this wheat, food prices would rise significantly”, he warned, explaining that Ukraine has always been “the breadbasket” of Africa.
In July 2022, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations signed the Black Sea Grain Initiative to allow Ukrainian grain exports despite Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
After complicated negotiations, this agreement was extended three times – most recently in May, for 60 days, until July 17. But on June 13, Russia again threatened to withdraw from the agreement, claiming that certain clauses on the export of Russian fertilizers had still not been respected, despite successive UN commitments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also accused Kiev of using the maritime corridors provided for in the agreement to attack the Russian fleet with drones.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “worried” about the future of the agreement, and Kiev said it was “not very optimistic”.
Without renewal of the agreement, “households will no longer be able to meet their basic needs”, insisted Dominique Ferretti.
The World Food Program, which provides direct aid to populations, would also be severely affected, as Ukraine is one of its main suppliers.
Under the agreement, over 32 million tonnes of grain were shipped out of Ukraine.
The organization has no plan B in place, but is doing its utmost to pre-position foodstuffs. However, it will be forced to look for other suppliers if the extension of the agreement fails.
“We have to be prepared for an increase in food insecurity” in the event of supply difficulties, stressed Brenda Lazarus of the Sub-Regional Office for East Africa of the FAO, the UN’s food and agriculture agency, from Nairobi.
She explained that wheat plays an important role in the diet of populations in countries such as Somalia and Djibouti. The FAO supports local communities to help them replace wheat in the diet, but it’s a “very slow” process, said the economist.
he United Nations claimed last week to have “averted famine” in the Horn of Africa thanks to a $2.4 billion harvest for this region hit by catastrophic drought due to “climate chaos”.
But the situation remains serious. The number of food-insecure people has doubled since 2016 in East Africa (Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan), reaching the 60 million mark, said Dominique Ferretti, explaining that this food crisis was notably the result of conflict, drought and flooding.
According to the WFP representative, some 83,000 people, including 40,350 in Somalia and 43,000 in South Sudan, are currently in the “disaster” phase (phase 5), the highest of the food security classification (FSC). “This means that, on average, these households are eating once or twice a week,” he said.
The UN has so far refused to talk of widespread famine, but its officials have repeatedly asserted that populations are already dying of hunger.