The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Türkiye, was put in place to restore these vital food and fertilizer exports from Ukraine. Here are some key things to understand.
1) An agreement to circulate vital supplies again
Ukraine, one of the largest grain exporters in the world, normally supplies around 45 million tonnes of grain to the world market each year but, following the invasion of the country by Russia in late February 2022, Mountains of grain have piled up in silos, with ships unable to guarantee safe passage to and from Ukrainian ports and land routes unable to compensate.
This has contributed to a spike in staple food prices around the world. Added to this is the increase in the cost of energy, which has pushed developing countries to the brink of default. And a growing number of people found themselves on the brink of starvation.
On July 22, the UN, the Russian Federation, Türkiye and Ukraine agreed on the Black Sea Grain Initiative, during a signing ceremony in the Turkish metropolis, Istanbul.
The agreement allowed Ukrainian exports of grain and other foodstuffs and fertilizers, including ammonia, to resume through a safe maritime humanitarian corridor from three key Ukrainian ports: Chornomorsk, Odessa and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi, to the rest of the world.
To implement the agreement, a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) was established in Istanbul, composed of senior representatives of the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine and the United Nations.
According to procedures issued by the CCM, vessels wishing to participate in the Initiative are subject to an inspection off Istanbul to ensure that they are empty of cargo, and then will sail through the maritime humanitarian corridor to Ukrainian ports. to be charged. The corridor is established by the CCM and monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure the safe passage of vessels. Ships on their way back are also inspected in the inspection area off Istanbul.
World Bank/Ray Witlin
2) Millions of tons leave Ukraine
Initiative-controlled expeditions began from August 1. By the end of the month, more than 100 ships, loaded with more than one million tons of grain and other foodstuffs, had left Ukraine. In mid-September, the CCM reported that some three million tonnes had left Ukraine, signaling progress. It is hoped that eventually up to five million tonnes will be exported each month.
According to UN figures, 51% of shipments so far (as of mid-September) were maize, 25% wheat, 11% sunflower products, 6% rapeseed, 5% barley , 1% from soybeans, and one percent from other foodstuffs.
3) About a third of shipments go directly to low-income countries
About 25% of shipments went to low and lower-middle income countries. Egypt (8%), India and Iran (4% each), Bangladesh, Kenya and Sudan (2% each), Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti (1% each) and Tunisia (less than one percent).
This includes UN-chartered ships delivering humanitarian food aid – wheat purchased by the World Food Program (WFP) – to the Horn of Africa and Yemen.
Two ships chartered by the UN have already left Ukraine, while two more are expected soon. WFP has so far procured 120,000 tonnes of wheat to support humanitarian aid in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan.
The first ship chartered by WFP docked in Djibouti on August 30 to support the drought response in the Horn of Africa. A second ship chartered by the UN, loaded with 37,500 tons of wheat, sailed on August 30 and docked in Türkiye on September 3, where the wheat will be ground into flour.
This flour will then be loaded onto another ship which will head for Yemen to support the World Food Program’s humanitarian response there. The third and fourth ships chartered by WFP will also supply wheat to the relief operations.
About 25% of grain went to upper-middle-income countries – including Turkey, China and Bulgaria; and 50% to high-income countries such as Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Germany, France, Greece, Ireland and Israel.
The UN stresses that all grain leaving Ukrainian ports through the Initiative benefits people in need, as it helps calm markets and limit food price inflation.
All vessel movements can be viewed on the Black Sea Grains Initiative website, which also contains useful facts and figures.
UN Photo/Mark Garten
4) Food prices are falling
There are clear signs that the Initiative is succeeding in achieving one of its main objectives, namely bringing down food prices.
At a press conference in mid-September, Rebeca Grynspan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations trade and development agency, UNCTAD, and Amir Abdulla, the United Nations Coordinator for the Grains Initiative of the Black Sea, welcomed the fact that prices had fallen for five consecutive months: the food price index has fallen by almost 14% since the peak in March this year.
Mr Abdulla explained that the fall in prices meant that those who had hoarded grain, hoping to sell it at a greater profit, were now selling, which meant that there was now more food supply on the markets, causing prices to fall further. Ms Grynspan, who is also Coordinator of the United Nations task force set up to help countries deal with the triple economic shock compounded by the effects of the war in Ukraine, underlined that this made a huge difference in regarding the global cost of living crisis.
Globally, a record 345 million people in over 80 countries are currently facing acute food insecurity, while up to 50 million people in 45 countries are at risk of starvation without humanitarian assistance.
In August, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said opening Black Sea ports was “the single most important thing we can do right now to help the world’s hungry.” He warned that while this alone would not be enough to end world hunger, bringing Ukrainian grain back to world markets would improve the chances of preventing the global food crisis from worsening.
UNIC Ankara/Levent Kulu
5) Ongoing collaboration is necessary for continued success
The United Nations is fully aware that the smooth continuation of shipments out of Ukrainian ports will require the continued collaboration of Ukraine and Russia. Mr. Abdulla praised the “spirit of collaboration” between the parties to the Initiative. He also noted the special role that Türkiye and the UN play in pushing the process forward.
However, with no end to the war in sight, the future is uncertain.
The current Initiative can extend beyond its initial 120 days after the July 22 signing date, if the parties so choose. The CCM team in Istanbul is already thinking about extending the agreement. Mr. Abdulla remains positive, expressing his hope that “with the UN’s mediation efforts, it won’t really be a topic of discussion”.