Ever since the commencement of the Ukraine-Russian armed conflict, its repercussions have extended to impede imminent cooperation on critical issues, such as nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, cybersecurity, global economic security, counterterrorism, and energy security.
The conflict encompasses more than just violence and military operations; it has also exacerbated other serious global crises. This includes the distribution and delivery of vital aid, notably food. Consequently, it has exacerbated the prevailing scarcity of global humanitarian assistance and other resources for vulnerable communities and states.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in a complete cessation of maritime grain shipments from Ukraine. Ukraine had been a significant exporter through the Black Sea. This development caused global food prices to rise and posed a significant risk of famine in third-world and developing nations.
To address this concern and manage the ensuing instability, Turkey, which also oversees the maritime routes from the Black Sea, initiated discussions with the backing of the United Nations.
These discussions culminated in a July 2022 agreement known as the Black Sea Grain Deal. This agreement pertains to grain export through specific ports in the Black Sea region. It was also an endeavor to tackle the escalating issue of food insecurity.
Amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of seaports in early 2022, a Joint Coordination Centre was arranged in Istanbul to monitor their activities. The deal, brokered by Turkey and the UN, included three Ukrainian ports: Chernomorsk, Yuzhny, and Odesa on its Black Sea coast.
In peacetime, Ukraine exported food that would be enough for around four hundred million people worldwide. The country has been one of the largest exporters of sunflower oil and wheat, and it used to export millions of tons of oilseeds and grains through its Black Sea coast.
Despite the ongoing war, the grain deal enabled Ukrainian grains to be shipped to the impoverished states of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. However, it also benefitted Russia, allowing it to ship fertilizers and food worldwide despite Western sanctions. Moreover, the deal was intended to be extended every four months. However, the past two extensions only lasted for two months each, as Russia complained about encountering difficulties in shipping fertilizer and food products.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative offered an alternative as the war caused energy and food costs to surge worldwide. With millions of people facing a greater threat of food insecurity and being put at risk of poverty, Ukraine’s grain and oilseed exports across the Black Sea had rebounded to 4.2 million metric tons by late October. Under the deal, more than thirty-three million metric tons have been exported, supporting Ukrainian farmers and contributing to lower global food costs.
Ukrainian exports played a crucial role in the country’s efforts to ensure food security for those in need. To provide humanitarian food assistance, Ukrainian food supplies reach countries on the brink of famine, including Yemen, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. The Black Sea Grain initiative has also yielded positive outcomes in global markets, with food costs dropping by 23% as of March 2022.
In the Black Sea deal context, regions worldwide acquired significant quantities of grains, wheat, and other food supplies. This distribution encompassed Asia, which received forty-six percent of the grains and other food items, while Africa and Western Europe received twelve percent and forty percent, respectively.
Conversely, as Russia’s strategic ally, China emerged as the primary recipient of Ukrainian exports through the Landmark Agreement. This encompassed millions of tons of corn, barley, sunflower seeds, and oil. Notably, corn alone constituted thirty percent of these exports.
Russia has decided to withdraw from an agreement, so mounting concerns in different regions have arisen over the halted Black Sea grain deal. The end of this deal will severely impact already vulnerable populations in most parts of the world.
It could also compromise food security, especially in regions at risk of poverty and food inflation. As a result, by withdrawing from the agreement, the lives of over a million people are at risk, primarily in Africa and Asia.
Although its implications on other regions of the wider world are also visible, the communities with fewer and fewer resources will be largely affected by it. One significant reason is the increase in food prices and other necessary items, affecting livelihoods directly.
Another possible risk involves climate shocks, characterized by severe warming and unpredictable seasons. For instance, Somalia is currently experiencing the worst drought in its four decades of history.
Climate change can significantly disrupt agricultural and food productivity. After decades of violence and conflicts, countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, Sudan, and South Sudan have become highly reliant on imports.
However, Kenya and Ethiopia have imported significant grains under the Black Sea grain deal. Therefore, the conclusion of the Black Sea Grain Initiative introduces additional challenges for countries already grappling with the harsh effects of climate change.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, to a greater extent, the anticipated secondary incremental effect on food prices resulting from the suspension will undoubtedly worsen South Africa’s pre-existing socioeconomic vulnerabilities.
The extended suspension, influenced by weather events that have hindered domestic output, could prompt food-exporting countries in the Asia Pacific region to prioritize their local markets. As the primary beneficiary of this trade deal, Mainland China has a strong incentive to employ diplomatic measures in persuading Russia to rejoin the agreement.
As the UN’s Secretary-General pointed out, this endeavor has become a beacon of hope for the world. Despite facing multiple obstacles, it successfully achieved its primary goal. Ukraine’s shipment of approximately 33 million tons of grains and food to 45 other nations has contributed to a 25% reduction in world food costs since August 2022.
However, Russia alleges that its agricultural exports were not properly facilitated, leading to a dispute over responsibility. Additionally, Russia greatly benefited from an agreement with the UN regarding fertilizer exports, which was negotiated concurrently with the BSGI.
Given the global system’s foundation of interdependency, an event of this nature, in which many developing countries are involved, unquestionably represents one of the major risks to global food security.
To provide some context, Russia itself stands as one of the top grain suppliers. Global markets are still recovering from a time when Russia sought to impose an embargo on its own exports.
Consequently, this action created a critical pathway for the Global South, as Russia substantially contributed to it. Therefore, any attempt to terminate the agreement and impose restrictions on shipments from Ukrainian ports would not only lead to a loss in food supplies but also result in skyrocketing prices.
By understanding today’s global food systems, we observe that they have become increasingly complex over the decades. The world has been grappling with numerous violent conflicts, with many of these wars occurring in underdeveloped countries.
However, when key players with significant market influence become involved in these wars, the effects are even more distressing, as their supplies are currently restricted. For instance, droughts persist in disrupting agricultural processes in Ethiopia and Somalia. Instead of progressing toward the goal of Zero Hunger, the result is a growing hunger crisis.
The world must change to more effectively defend vulnerable nations against the dangers of a fully liberalized and interconnected global food system.
Significant global entities should prioritize domestic producers’ and suppliers’ social and economic protection.
National governments should play an equal and important role in this endeavor. Their policies should encompass social security measures for domestic customers who are struggling to make ends meet, as well as for local farmers. For instance, increased investment in local value chains, especially climate-resilient ones, would be beneficial.
*The author is an International Relations graduate from Kinnaird College, Lahore, Pakistan. Her main research interests include green transition and green growth, environmental security, non-traditional security threats, and human security.
**The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization neither endorses nor assumes any responsibility for the content of this article.