ISTANBUL (AP) – Three other ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports on Friday and traveled into the minewaters to inspect their cargo overdue, a sign that an international agreement to export grain has resisted since the Russia invaded Ukraine it was slowly progressing. But there are major obstacles to be faced in getting food to the countries that need it most.
Ships bound for Ireland, the UK and Turkey follow the first grain load cross the Black Sea since the beginning of the war. The passage of that ship bound for Lebanon earlier this week was the first under the revolutionary agreement mediated by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The first ships to leave are among more than a dozen bulk carriers and merchant ships loaded months ago but stuck in ports since Russia invaded in late February. While the resumption of shipments has raised hopes of easing a global food crisis, much of the reserve cargo goes to animal feed, not people to eat, experts say.
The Black Sea region is nicknamed the granary of the worldwith Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil than millions of impoverished people in Africathe Middle East and parts of Asia depend for survival.
However, the initial shipments are not expected to have a significant impact on the global price of corn, wheat and soy. For starters, exports under the agreement got off to a slow and cautious start due to the threat of explosive mines floating off the Ukrainian Black Sea coast.
And while Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat to developing countries, there are other countries, such as the United States and Canada, with much higher production levels that can affect global wheat prices.. And they face the threat of drought.
“Ukraine accounts for about 10 percent of the international grain trade, but in terms of production it’s not even 5 percent,” said David Laborde, an agriculture and trade expert at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
The three ships departing on Friday were accompanied by Ukrainian pilot ships for safe passage due to explosive mines scattered across the Black Sea. The ships left with over 58,000 tons of corn, but this is still a fraction of the 20 million tons. grain that Ukraine claims are trapped in the country’s silos and ports that need to be shipped to make room for this year’s harvest.
About 6 million tons of the trapped grain is wheat, but only half is destined for human consumption, Laborde said.
Ukraine is expected to produce 30% to 40% less wheat in the next 12 months due to the war, although other estimates put that figure at 70%.
Cereal prices peaked after the Russian invasion, and while some dropped to pre-war levels, they are still higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Corn prices are 70% higher than at the end of February 2020, said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. He said wheat prices are around 60% higher than in February 2020.
One of the reasons why prices remain high is the impact of drought on crops in North America, China and other regions, as well as on the higher price of fertilizers necessary for agriculture.
“When fertilizer prices are high, farmers can use less fertilizer. And when they use less fertilizer, they will produce less. And if they produce less, supply will continue to remain insufficient, “said Laborde.
The three ships that left Ukraine on Friday give hope that exports will increase to developing countries, where many are facing the growing threat of food shortages and hunger.
“The movement of three more ships overnight is a very positive sign and will continue to build confidence that we are moving in the right direction,” said Haines. “If the flow of grain from Ukraine continues to expand, it will help ease global supply constraints.”
The Turkish-flagged Polarnet, carrying 12,000 tons of corn, left the port of Chornomorsk for Karasu, Turkey. Navi Star flying Panama left the port of Odesa for Ireland with 33,000 tons of corn. The Maltese-flagged Rojen left Chornomorsk for the UK carrying over 13,000 tonnes of corn, the United Nations said.
He added that the Joint Coordination Center – run by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations who oversee the agreement signed in Istanbul last month – cleared the three ships and inspected a ship bound for Ukraine. The Fulmar S, flying the Barbadian flag, has been inspected in Istanbul and is bound for the port of Chornomorsk.
Controls aim to ensure that outgoing merchant ships carry only grain, fertilizer or food and no other goods and that incoming ships do not carry weapons.
After Turkey helped broker the food deal two weeks ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday in Sochi, Russia.
In a statement after the four-hour talks, Putin and Erdogan stressed “the need for full implementation of the package of agreements reached in Istanbul … including the unimpeded export of Russian wheat and fertilizers”.
In other developments on Friday, the Ukrainian presidential office said at least eight civilians were killed and another 16 injured in the latest Russian bombing.
The eastern Donetsk region has been facing Russia’s most intense barrage for weeks. Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko repeated his call to evacuate all residents.
“The shelling and shelling continues 24 hours a day and people who refuse to evacuate risk being killed on their pillows,” Kyrylenko said in a televised commentary.
In Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, three districts were subjected to massive bombings. Several apartment buildings and a street market were damaged and three people were injured.
Russian bombing also targeted the city of Zaporizhzhia and several cities along the front line in the region. For the second consecutive day, the Russians also bombed the city of Nikopol which is located opposite the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on the other side of the Dnieper River. Dozens of houses were damaged.
Energoatom, which manages Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, said three bullets landed in the evening on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia power plant, which is the largest in Europe. No casualties or damage to the reactors were reported.
“This is an open and bold crime, an act of terror,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video speech.
The Russians also hit the southern city of Mykolaiv. Regional governor Vitaliy Kim said Russian forces fired on the city after lunch, causing extensive damage, killing an unknown number of people and wounding at least nine. He said the fire came from the direction of Kherson, the Russian-occupied city about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the southeast.
Batrawy reported from Dubai.