On July 17, Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an agreement between Ukraine and Russia that allowed ships to export Ukrainian grain through the country’s Black Sea ports.
Quoting a statement by the Kenyan government, USAID Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman said that “this action by the part of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin - on pulling out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative - is a stab in the back of global food security.”
“Odessa and the Black Sea are very critical for food security. You've got two big bread baskets, Russia and Ukraine, which both use the Black Sea and to be able to export vast amounts of wheat and grains and oils through the Black Sea. And Odesa is one of Ukraine's major ports. It has been operating at less than 15 percent capacity since Russia invaded. And that has only been because that 15 percent has been what they've been able to get out with this Black Sea Grain Initiative, which as you mentioned, Russia has now pulled out of so this is a very, very serious situation for world food security,” she said.
“So many millions of people depend on Ukrainian grain exports around the world and Ukraine tends to have less expensive grains to export and it goes to some of the poorest countries in the world, the Horn of Africa, countries in the Middle East, Yemen, Afghanistan, they've all been dependent on Ukrainian exports.”
The United States and European countries are working to develop alternative, export routes by rail through Poland, or down the Danube River through Romania. But there are numerous hurdles to overcome.
“We and the Europeans are working together to have alternate routes for Ukraine to be able to export its crops. So overland routes through Poland, Romania, using the Danube out through the Romanian ports, and really trying everything that we can to be able to keep some of the food exports flowing,” she said. “But it's not easy. It's not a replacement for the Black Sea, which offered, you know, big shipping at a much more expedited way and lower cost than these other routes.”
“What Russia is doing is intentionally destroying the agricultural capacity of one of the world's most critical bread baskets,” said Deputy Administrator Coleman. “The repercussions of that are going to be felt for months and years to come.”