Russia, Ukraine extend grain deal to help world’s poor

KYIV, Ukraine — An unprecedented wartime deal was extended Saturday to allow grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices are pushing more people into poverty.

The UN and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the extension, but neither confirmed how long it would last. The UN, Turkey and Ukraine have pushed for 120 days, while Russia has said it is willing to accept 60 days.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov indicated in a Twitter message on Saturday that the agreement will remain in force for a longer period of four months. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the Russian news agency Tass that Moscow had “agreed to extend the agreement by 60 days.”

It is the second renewal of separate agreements signed by Ukraine and Russia with the UN and Turkey to allow food to leave the Black Sea region after Russia attacked its neighbor more than a year ago.

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The warring countries are major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food commodities on which developing countries depend.

Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilizers – which should have been facilitated by the agreement with Turkey and the UN – are not reaching global markets, which has been a concern for Moscow since the agreement came into effect in August. Nevertheless, it was renewed for another four months in November.

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that 25 million tons (about 28 million tons) of grain and food arrived in 45 countries under the initiative, which contributed to the reduction and stabilization of global food prices. markets.

“We remain strongly committed to both agreements and urge all parties to redouble their efforts to fully implement them,” Dujarric said.

The war in Ukraine last year pushed food prices to record highs and contributed to a global food crisis linked to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate factors such as drought.

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In places like Egypt, Lebanon, and Nigeria, disruptions to food grains have exacerbated economic challenges and pushed millions of people into poverty or food insecurity. People in developing countries spend more of their money on basic things like food.

According to the UN World Food Programme, the crisis caused food insecurity for 345 million people.

Food prices have been falling steadily for 11 months, but food was already expensive before the war due to droughts from America to the Middle East – the most devastating in the Horn of Africa, Somalia, killing thousands. Poorer nations dependent on imported food priced in dollars spend more as their currencies weaken.

The accords also faced setbacks, brokered by the UN and Turkey: Russia briefly pulled out in November before rejoining and extending the deal. In the past few months, inspections aimed at ensuring that the ships were carrying only grain and not weapons have slowed.

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This has contributed to a backlog of ships waiting in Turkish waters and a recent reduction in the amount of grain leaving Ukraine.

Ukrainian and some US officials have blamed Russia for the slowdown, which the country denies.

While fertilizers stalled, Russia exported huge amounts of wheat after a record harvest. According to data from financial data provider Refinitiv, Russian wheat exports more than doubled to 3.8 million tonnes in January from a year ago, the month before the invasion.

Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December and January, up 24% from the same three months a year earlier, according to Refinitiv. Russia is estimated to export 44 million tons of wheat in 2022-2023.


Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Elise Morton in London and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.


See AP’s full coverage of the war in Ukraine here and the food crisis here