Even after Ukraine recaptured the strategically important Snake Island in the north-west of the Black Sea, it remains unclear how Kyiv will be able to export grain in large quantities in the near future. If the grain stored in the Ukraine is not exported on a large scale, the situation in particularly dependent countries such as Egypt or Somalia will soon become “very critical”, according to the CEO of the BayWa agricultural group, Klaus Josef Lutz.
As Lutz explained on Thursday, Egypt, for example, is 80 percent dependent on Russia and Ukraine when it comes to importing bread wheat. In the case of Somalia, dependence on Ukrainian imports is around 100 percent. Since the start of the Ukraine war, around 20 million tons of grain have been stuck in the country’s silos because exports via Black Sea ports such as Odessa have been blocked.
Lutz explained how decisive exports by sea are in this regard, using the capacity of so-called Panamax container ships, which can carry 30 times as much cargo as a freight train. Due to the blockade of the Black Sea by Russia, there are considerations to stabilize the existing export of Ukrainian grain overland. Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) had also brought up the possibility of building a broad-gauge connection between Ukraine and Baltic ports.
In addition to the largely blocked export, it is foreseeable that the wheat harvest in Ukraine will be 17 percent lower than the average of the past four years due to the war. This is the result of an evaluation of satellite images by the BayWa subsidiary Vista. At present, 22.48 million tons of bread wheat are ripening in the fields of Ukraine for this year’s harvest.
The Ministry of Defense in Moscow justified the withdrawal from the symbolic Snake Island with the words that Russia does not hinder the export of grain and agricultural products from Ukraine. However, hopes in Kyiv that the blockade would be lifted soon were dampened. As the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry explained on Twitter, Russia continues to endanger global food security. According to the information, Russian soldiers fired on a farm in the Dnipropetrovsk region and destroyed a warehouse in which 40 tons of grain were stored.
Meanwhile, Russia has started exporting grain by sea to the occupied territories in Ukraine. A ship with a cargo of 7,000 tons of grain left the port of Berdyansk on Thursday. Russian forces had already taken the port city at the end of February. According to the head of the pro-Russian administration, Evgeny Balitsky, the cargo of 7,000 tons of grain is on its way “to friendly countries”.
In principle, China is one of the main buyers of grain confiscated by Russia from Ukraine. According to BayWa boss Lutz, countries such as Egypt, Libya and Pakistan have meanwhile begun to buy up grain on the world market. According to Lutz, the governments of these countries are doing everything they can to avoid a crisis like it was over a decade ago. In Algeria, for example, dissatisfaction with the massive rise in food prices was one of the causes of the Arab Spring at the time.