Ukraine’s grain shipments fall as shipping reserves grow

LONDON – The amount of grain leaving Ukraine has declined even as a UN-brokered deal works to keep food flowing to developing countries Ship inspections reduced by half what they were four months ago, and a ship backlog that’s growing as the Russian invasion nears the one-year mark.

Ukrainian and some US officials have accused Russia of slowing down inspections, which Moscow denies. Less wheat, barley and other grains from Ukraine, named “Breadbasket of the world, ‘ raises concerns about the impact who are starving in Africathe Middle East and parts of Asia – places that dependent on affordable food from the Black Sea region.

The hurdles come as separate deals negotiated by Turkey and the UN last summer Keep the shipments from the warring nations moving and to reduce rising food prices are up for renewal next month. Russia is also a leading global supplier of wheat, other grains, sunflower oil and fertilizers, and officials have complained about the delay in shipping nutrients critical to the crop.

Under the deal, food exports from three Ukrainian ports have fallen to 3 million in January from 3.7 million tons in December, according to the Joint Coordinating Center in Istanbul. This is ensured by inspection teams from Russia, Ukraine, the UN and Turkey Ships only transport agricultural products and no guns.

The drop in supply corresponds to about a month Ingestion for Kenya and Somalia together. It follows that average inspections per day slowed to 5.7 last month and 6 this month so far, down from October’s peak of 10.6.

This has helped increase the number of vessels waiting in the waters off Turkey, either to be inspected or to join the Black Sea Grains Initiative. According to the JCC, 152 ships are in line, a 50% increase from January.

This month, ships are waiting an average of 28 days between requesting participation and being inspected, said Ruslan Sakhautdinov, head of the Ukrainian delegation to the JCC. That’s a week longer than in January.

Factors such as inclement weather hampering the inspectors’ work, requiring shippers to join the initiative, port activity and vessel capacity also affect shipments.

“I think it’s going to become a problem if inspections continue to be so slow,” said William Osnato, senior research analyst at agricultural data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. “In a month or two you’ll find that a few million tons haven’t come out because it’s just going too slowly.”

“By creating the bottleneck, you kind of create a gap in the flow, but as long as they get something out it’s not a total disaster,” he added.

US officials such as USAID Administrator Samantha Power and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield have blamed Russia for the slowdown, they said Food supply for vulnerable nations are delayed.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a statement on Facebook on Wednesday that Russian inspectors have been “systematically delaying” inspecting ships for months.

They accused Moscow of impeding work under the deal and then “seizing on the opportunity for uninterrupted merchant shipping from Russia’s Black Sea ports.”

Osnato also pointed to the possibility that after harvesting a large wheat crop, Russia could slow down inspections “to get more business.” This is shown by figures from the financial data provider Refinitiv Russian wheat exports more than doubled to 3.8 million tons in the last month from January 2022, before the invasion.

According to Refinitiv, Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December and January, up 24% from the same three months last year. It was estimated that Russia would export 44 million tons of wheat between 2022 and 2023.

Alexander Pchelyakov, a spokesman for the Russian diplomatic mission to the UN agencies in Geneva, said last month that claims of deliberate slowdowns were “simply not true”.

Russian officials have also complained that the country’s fertilizer is not being exported under the deal and is leaving the country Extension of the four-month contract that expires on March 18th in question.

Without tangible results, extending the deal would be “unreasonable,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin told RTVI, a private Russian-language TV channel, on Monday.

UN officials say they have been working on dissolving Russian fertilizer and have spoken out hope the deal will be extended.

“I think we’re in a bit more difficult territory right now, but the fact of the matter is I think this will be coherent and compelling,” Martin Griffiths, the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told reporters on Wednesday. “The Global South and international food security need this operation to proceed.”

Tolulope Phillips, a bakery manager in Lagos, Nigeria, has seen the impact firsthand. He says the Flour costs have exploded 136% since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Nigeria, a top importer of Russian wheat, saw the cost of bread and other groceries soar.

“This is usually unstable for any company to survive,” Phillips said. “You have to set your prices to accommodate that increase and that doesn’t just affect flour – it affects sugar too, it affects flavors, it affects the price of diesel, it affects the price of electricity. So production costs have generally gone up.”

Global food prices, including wheat, have fallen back to pre-war levels in Ukraine after hitting record highs in 2022. In emerging markets that rely on imported food, such as Nigeria, Weaker currencies keep prices high because they pay in dollars, Osnato said.

Plus, Droughts that have affected harvests from America to the Middle East meant groceries were already expensive before Russia invaded Ukraine and exacerbated the food crisis, Osnato said.

Prices are likely to remain high for more than a year, he said. What is needed now is “good weather and a few harvest seasons to feel more comfortable with the global supply of a range of different grains” and “to see a significant drop in food prices worldwide”.


AP journalists Dan Ikpoyi in Lagos, Nigeria, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.


Watch AP’s full coverage of the food crisis

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Sarah Y. Kim

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