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10 May 2022

The blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports causes grain prices to soar

Some of the most food-insecure countries in the world are facing higher prices for bread and other staples.

By Saywah Mahmood

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has urged the international community to pressure Russia into ending its blockade of his country’s Black Sea ports to allow the export of wheat and the prevention of a global food crisis.

The International Grains Council’s (IGP) grains and oilseeds daily price index increased sharply when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, at the end of February. After a week, the index had increased by 9 per cent to record levels, which have been maintained ever since.

On Monday (9 May), the Black Sea port of Odesa was struck by missiles, killing one person. After the strike, Zelensky said: “without our agricultural exports, dozens of countries in different parts of the world are already on the brink of food shortages. And over time, the situation can become downright terrible.”

Russia first established a blockade around Ukraine’s Black Sea coast in early March 2022, blocking key trading ports.

In 2020, Ukraine was the world’s fifth-largest exporter of wheat, with low- and middle-income countries being important beneficiaries. The main export destinations were Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon.

Many of these countries were already facing price hikes and shortages. Food security issues have now become even more severe.

For example, Lebanon, which imports 80 per cent of its overall food supply, is in the middle of a bread shortage crisis. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Lebanese government has twice raised the price of subsidised bread.

In Egypt, where a third of the population lives below the official poverty line and relies on state-subsidised bread, flour prices have risen by 15 per cent.

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The head of the UN World Food Programme, David Beasley, said in a tweet that if ports in the Odesa region did not open up immediately, “famines will be looming all over the world”.

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