Getting Ukraine grain moving: EU leaders stumped over exactly how to free up vital crops
01 Jun 2022 --- Rescue efforts to extract 20 million metric tons of grain trapped in Ukraine are ramping up with EU initiatives now focused on removing the loads by land rather than by sea routes as Russia continues to blockade ports.
The EU council admitted in a press conference yesterday that the longer the supplies from Ukraine are missing from global markets, “the larger consequences it will have.”
Silos in Ukraine are full to the brim and have to be cleared before pending harvests in August, otherwise massive amounts of grain will rot.
EU members gathered in Brussels yesterday for an update on the action plan to reignite some kind of safe food corridor.
Much has been discussed about the possible safe routes to free up the much-needed crop to be rerouted to markets in desperate need of grain, but as of yet, nothing concrete is in the works.
Adina Vălean, the EU’s transport commissioner, says that all the 20 million tons “must leave Ukraine in less than three months.” She also urges member states “to increase inspection capacity at border posts to deal with arrivals 24/7”, because incredibly bureaucracy is another burden getting in the way of wheat being released from war-torn Ukraine to feed the world.
Some convoys are being delayed up to 10 days for one missing certificate.
However, speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, UN economist for the Food and Agriculture Organization Monika Tothova, insists the current year will be manageable, despite growing food security risks and a severe lack of some staple crops in several countries around the world.
Tothova also warns that if current conditions, such as high fertilizer prices, prevail, this will impact “the farmers’ ability to respond to high prices and produce more.”
Warnings over food nationalism
Meanwhile, president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyem, is rallying against food protectionism that is creeping up in various guises globally.
Food security concerns, shortages and supply shocks are driving some countries to opt for protectionist approaches, in a rise of food nationalism sentiment to protect domestic food reserves.
“The usual export was 5 million tons of wheat per month. Now, it is down to 200,000 to 1 million tons,” admits Von der Leyen.
Tothova says countries must be very mindful of their actions and “carefully weigh measures they put in place against their potentially detrimental effect on international markets, including over the longer term.”
“Export restrictions exacerbate price volatility, limit the buffer capacity of the global market, and have negative impacts over the medium term,” she says.
Von der Leyen also called for open markets, reiterating similar calls from world leaders gathering at Davos last week.
“We call on all partners not to restrict global trade of agricultural products. So any kind of trade restrictions have absolutely no place in our member states, or globally,” she said.
A suggestion to move wheat through Belarus in the short term has also been discarded.
Catastrophic scenario for Africa
Attending the press conference president of Senegal and African Union chair, Macky Sall, explained how the blockade of the Black Sea ports might lead to “a catastrophic scenario.”
“We would like to see everything possible done to free up available grain stocks and ensure transportation and market access,” he said, adding his intentions to call Russian President Vladimir Putin to address his food security concerns.
Africa relies heavily on Ukrainian and Russian grain, with some countries sourcing up to 98% of their wheat from these countries. Countries like Uganda are hailing alternatives to wheat such as local food cassava, and other food substitutes are being found on sticky rice and yam.
The dire situation in Africa is worsened because of the continent’s predicted cereal yield for the year, which Sall warns could decline from 20% to 50%.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, Von der Leyen announced €2.5 billion (US$2.67 billion) funds for South Sahara Africa. Proposing to mobilize reserves from the European Development to support food insecure populations, also promising to “step-up own food production” with expectations to hit a record 14 million tons of cereal exported in 2022 and 2023.
Von der Leyen hailed better strategies for North and South Sahara Africa to increase food production resilience in the middle-long term. She stressed the importance of new technologies to solve the food security issues in the continent. Naming precision farming and nanotechnologies as a solution.
By Marc Cervera
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