The Russo-Ukrainian war has entered its fourth month, but nobody can tell when and how the invasion will stop. Nevertheless, one thing is sure; the conflict has severe global political and economic effects. Today we will focus on food supply. Ukraine is a significant grain exporter, but many regional trade routes cannot be used due to the war. This has far-reaching consequences much beyond Europe’s borders.
Ukraine is one of the biggest grain exporters in the world. The Eastern European country accounts for a tenth of the world’s wheat production and 17% of maize exports. Thus, it is no surprise that the threat of grain shortage has been on the top of the list of problems to solve after Russia invaded Ukraine, together with the looming humanitarian catastrophe, the deteriorating global security environment, and energy security risks.
Bakers use Ukrainian wheat from Egypt and Turkey to Indonesia. Ukraine accounts for almost half of the world’s sunflower oil output. The higher corn prices threaten thousands of livestock farmers in the US, just as in China. The coming food shortages will primarily affect the most vulnerable, poorest parts of the world, such as Yemen, where humanitarian organizations have so far supplied Ukrainian grain to the people. The EU produces much more food than we use, so we should not be afraid of starvation. And the problem is not that Ukraine cannot grow enough grain. Dmytro Grushetskyi, a Ukrainian farmer and agricultural data analyst, told the Washington Post that 2021 brought record wheat yield in the country, so Ukrainian stocks are full. But how can it happen that one of the leading grain exporters is unable to meet the global market demand?
Most of Ukraine’s grain usually leaves the country via the seven Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea. This means 51 million tonnes of grain, enough to feed approximately 400 million people. So, since the ports are under Russian blockade, the world supply is at risk as there is no other infrastructure to export the grain to the world market. Adina-Ioana Vălean, European Commissioner for Transport, said to Politico that 40 million tonnes of grain are currently in Ukrainian storage facilities, half of which must be shipped by the end of July.
So, the grain export difficulties are global problems, but alternative transport routes must be found locally. On 16 May, the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) presented its draft plan to transport 30 million tonnes of grain from Ukraine. However, it would require significant cooperation to implement it, as challenging infrastructure and logistical issues must be solved, such as the means of transport and the different track gauges.
The draft was approved by all Member States, and Poland and the Baltic States have offered to provide an alternative transit route through their territories. This step would make the Baltic Sea even more crucial from a geopolitical perspective. Lithuania could free itself from Russian gas after the outbreak of the war due to its recently built LNG port terminal. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said the problem is two-fold. The global food shortage can be exacerbated if the grain cannot be exported to North African countries leading to an even worse food crisis.
So, a seemingly local issue can rapidly become a global, intercontinental problem. There is a link between mass starvation and migration, hunger may leave no other chance for people than to leave their homeland, so Europe might soon experience a refugee crisis from the south again. The problem of grain shortage shows us that wars can cause suffering not just for the directly involved parties and that a blockade of a trade route does not only affect the trading partners. Therefore, we have a common humanitarian and economic interest to help our suffering fellow human beings whether they live in Europe, Africa, or anywhere else in the world.