Ukraine's farmers will begin harvesting millions of acres of winter wheat in July, but if the country cannot export it, its economy will likely collapse, causing even worse suffering for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the grain, United Nations World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said Wednesday.
“You can say goodbye to Ukraine if you don’t get those ports open,” Beasley said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “The economy collapses. Forty-four percent of their GDP is based on ag products that are exported through those ports.”
The situation is already bad. Ukrainian exports of old crop grains, sunflower seed oil and other commodities virtually halted when Russia invaded on Feb. 24. Millions of tons of grain and vegetable oil that would normally help feed the world are trapped because of the Russian invasion, Beasley said.
“We urgently need these ports to reopen so that food being produced in the war-torn country can flow freely to the rest of the world before the current global hunger crisis spins out of control,” Beasley said in prepared testimony for the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
“Unless they are reopened, Ukrainian farmers will have nowhere to store the next harvest in July and August," Beasley said. "The result will be mountains of grain going to waste while WFP and the world struggle to deal with an already catastrophic global hunger crisis.”
If Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports is not lifted, he stressed, the result will be famine.
“In the case of a prolonged conflict, we should expect the destruction of the commodities currently trapped in storage, worsening declines in Ukraine’s upcoming grain harvests and severe limits on its capacity to supply global markets,” he told senators. “Countries that rely heavily on grain imports from the Black Sea, like Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen, will be greatly affected.”
Ukraine is desperately trying to export whatever grain it can, shipping it on trains and trucks to the Danube River, where barges carry it to the Romanian port of Constanta. They are also loading it on trains to Poland and Lithuania.
But these efforts are not nearly enough, says Beasley.
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Market analysts tell Agri-Pulse Ukraine was only able to export about 900,000 metric tons of corn and wheat in April.
In a normal year, Ukraine exports about 60 million tons of ag commodities, Beasley said.
“Ukraine feeds 400 million people, so if that’s out of the equation, where’s it going to come from? You can’t make it up that fast.”
But it is not just the loss of commodities Ukraine provides that will lead to famine, he stressed. It’s the price spikes.
“Over the next eight to 12 months, you’ll see continued price spikes,” he said. “It will only get worse if food prices continue to spike.”
Russia continues to export wheat and fertilizer, but many of the countries in Africa and the Middle East that need it most cannot get it or afford it, Beasley explained.
“To make matters worse, a lack of fertilizer supplies from Russia and continuously high energy costs will further constrain yields in many countries far from Ukraine, especially across Africa,” he said in prepared testimony. “Some 25 countries depend on Russia for 30% or more of their fertilizers. WFP now anticipates that in the countries where we operate, acute hunger could rise by 47 million people, from a pre-war baseline of 276 million people who were already in the grip of acute hunger. This means that up to 323 million people could be facing crisis levels of acute food insecurity in the coming months.”
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