Uganda’s Kampala – The decision by Russia on Monday to renege on a deal that allowed the sale of Ukrainian agricultural products through a secure Black Sea passageway amid the ongoing conflict is already having an impact far from the front lines of battle in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s grain exports have long provided food for East African nations frightened by climate change. Now, analysts say, a termination of the deal might result in higher consumer costs and put further strain on farmers and relief organizations that are already struggling to respond to problems like conflict and drought.
Debisi Araba, a food policy strategist and a former managing director at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), said, “We already know or can predict to a fair degree the impact the pausing of exports from that region to the rest of the world, especially East Africa and the Horn of Africa.”
“We should expect to see an inflationary pressure on the price of grain, especially on countries that are dependent on imports — where these grains are mostly staples feeding millions of people — pushing more people into vulnerability and insecurity,” he continued.
In July 2022, Turkey and the UN began talks on the Black Sea Grain Initiative. It let ships carrying fertilizer and agricultural items to sail from three Ukrainian ports to Turkey’s Bosporus strait along carefully planned paths that skirted minefields and passed Russian warships.
Since the agreement was reached last year, around 32.8 million tonnes of Ukrainian corn, wheat, and other grains have been shipped.
More than half of this food was donated to underdeveloped nations, frequently in the form of 313 metric tonnes of Ukrainian wheat to the World Food Programme alone. A World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman spoke with Al Jazeera by phone from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and said that a large portion of it was later provided to populations suffering from drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative was hailed as a “beacon of hope” by UN Secretary-General António Guterres at a signing ceremony in Istanbul last year.
Humanitarian organizations are now warning of potential food shortages.
Brenda Kariuki, the WFP spokesperson for East Africa, said, “We will have to look at other markets, which increases our lead time and potentially raises the cost of bringing that food into this market. “More individuals could be forced into hunger.”
Additionally, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has stabilized international markets. Food prices have decreased by around 23% from their peak in March 2022 since the agreement was made last July.
Following that, a number of brief extensions were made to this agreement, with the most recent occurring in March 2023.
Russian participation in the contract, however, has been put on hold until a number of important conditions are met, including the relaxation of limits on its own fertiliser supplies, as a result of the sting of Western sanctions.
WFP representative Kariuki was already worried about possible aid reductions brought on the changes in wheat prices.
“If you think about higher costs of food anywhere in the world, even in the homestead, everyone has to really tighten their belts to really make sure they are able to afford the food when the prices go up,” she said. “WFP will likely have to prioritize who receives food in the future.
A region already suffering from unpredictable weather, low agricultural yields, and livestock fatalities due to a rapidly warming world might be severely impacted by the termination of the deal.
Ayan Mahamoud, a climate resilience specialist with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) trade bloc, which consists of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda, said that ending the Black Sea Grain Initiative adds challenges for nations already dealing with the effects of a changing climate. “Climate change is well known to disrupt agricultural productivity, affecting crop yields and food production.”
Early this year, little rain provided some respite to Somali farmers, but the nation still depends heavily on food imports.
“Due to decades of strife and instability, drought, and relatively low agricultural productivity, Somalia is already quite underdeveloped. Since cereal crops account for nearly a third of the calories in the Somali diet, this leaves Somalia heavily dependent on grain imports, according to Cyril Jaurena, who oversees activities for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the nation.
Nearly 40% of the population suffers from severe food insecurity, and even tiny price hikes can make it harder for families to put food on the table.
Due to their participation in the Black Sea grain agreement, Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia have also imported substantial quantities of grain and are therefore vulnerable to interruptions or stops in imports.
Both the United States and UN secretary-general Guterres have pushed Russia to restart its participation in the agreement. Ukraine will now need to turn to exporting agricultural goods by land and railroad, at a reduced volume and at a higher cost.