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1 August 2022updated 02 Aug 2022 6:28pm

Odesa grain shipment promises relief for countries reliant on Ukraine for wheat

The return of shipments being able to leave Ukrainian ports is a positive step in the fight to stave off a global food crisis.

By Polly Bindman

The first grain shipment to leave the Ukrainian port of Odesa in months departed on Monday 1 August, marking an important step forward in the fight to stave off a global food crisis. 

The shipment is the first to leave a Ukrainian port since the end of February, after Russia invaded Ukraine and blockaded its ports, threatening food supply chains across the world.

Russia and Ukraine together account for almost a third of global wheat exports, according to data from UN Comtrade. In 2020 Russia was the single largest supplier of wheat globally, accounting for 19.3 per cent of all imports, while Ukraine was the fifth largest and provided 9.4 per cent of the world’s wheat. 

A handful of countries depend heavily on Ukrainian imports. In Moldova, for example, 92 per cent of its wheat imports were sourced from Ukraine in 2020, while in Lebanon, it was 81 per cent, according to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. By contrast the UK sourced around 31,000 tonnes of wheat from Ukraine that year, which accounted for 1.5 per cent of its total wheat imports. 

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Countries in Africa and the Middle East are particularly reliant on Russian and Ukrainian wheat, along with other lower income countries which are disproportionately exposed to supply chain shocks caused by the ongoing Russian-Ukrainan war. 

According to a March 2022 report from the UN, more than 5 per cent of all imports to the world’s poorest countries are vulnerable to price hikes resulting from the war, compared with less than 1 per cent for wealthier countries.

In a tweet published on Monday, the office of UN secretary-general António Guterres welcomed the departure of the grain shipment: “Ensuring that existing grain and foodstuffs can move to global markets is a humanitarian imperative.”

[See also: A flurry of alarm over Kosovo reveals underlying tensions]

Clarification: This article was updated on 2 August as the original wording implied that Moldova imported 92 per cent of its wheat from Ukraine in 2020, rather than 92 per cent of its imported wheat only, and excluding its domestic supply.

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