Russia is doing whatever it can to stop Ukraine from supplying some of the poorest nations with its wheat, corn and sunflower seed oil, effectively using “hunger as a weapon of war,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during his participation at the G-7 summit this weekend in Germany.

The Russian military is “stealing grain from Ukraine. They are … destroying the infrastructure that would enable Ukrainian agricultural products to be processed into food and that has been interpreted as their effort to essentially wage war through hunger,” Vilsack told Agri-Pulse during the meetings with fellow ag ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union.

"Putin's war against Ukraine is also a war against the world's starving people,” said German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Özdemir, according to a statement published by the Ukrainian Agriculture Ministry on Saturday. “We pay homage to Ukrainian farmers who fight during the day and sow in their fields at night.”

Ukrainian farmers need to export to survive financially, and the lack of Ukrainian grain and vegetable oil on the international market has exacerbated price spikes and supply shortages. The situation was at the forefront of discussions at the G-7 summit over the weekend.

Ukrainian farmers are desperately trying to export their corn and wheat stockpiles despite the crushing Russian blockade of the country’s Black Sea ports and G-7 nations are scrambling to find ways to assist and get those commodities to nations that need the commodities, Tom Vilsack tells Agri-Pulse.

Before the invasion, Ukrainian Black Sea ports were used to ship about 90% of the country’s exports. Now the ports cannot be used at all.

“It would help Ukrainian farmers because they would receive cash for their grain,” Vilsack said. “It would help the availability of grain for countries, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, which would reduce the current concerns … about global food security.”

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The European Union last week published a proposal called “Solidarity Lanes” that European Transportation Commissioner Adina Vălean says she hopes will help move 20 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain out of the country in three months.

The plan focuses on logistics problems such as the fact that Ukrainian train cars aren’t compatible with much of the EU rail network. The European Commission is asking the transportation industry to put in place mobile grain loaders at Ukraine border terminals to move Ukrainian grain to European train cars.

Ukrainian exporters are already shipping wheat, corn, sunflower seed oil and other commodities through an ad hoc patchwork of routes to the south and west. They are shipping commodities in trucks and trains to barges on the Danube River and then on to ports like Constanta on the coast of Romania. They are also sending the commodities on trucks and trains west to ports in Poland and Lithuania.

Ukrainian government and industry officials say they are concerned that the situation will be far worse if the Russian port blockade is not lifted before the country’s winter wheat harvest is completed this summer. Still, Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky says he is eager to work with the G-7 ministers.

"We have discussed what will happen this year, given the possibility of prolonging the war,” Solsky said Saturday. “The situation can be resolved only in a radical way, for example by unblocking Ukrainian ports. But this situation depends not only on Ukraine and its partners. Therefore, you need to try all the options at once, in particular to simplify procedures and find new logistics opportunities. Therefore, we need constant communication and the readiness of the G-7 countries to respond quickly to all challenges.”

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