While the world is struggling to recover from the terrifying photos of Russian atrocities in Bucha, Russia is preparing a new attack. Having failed to take Kyiv, Russia will now concentrate its forces in the east and south of Ukraine. Odesa, one of Ukraine’s major ports, will likely become the next coastal target. Together with the port of Mykolaiv, Odesa accounts for 90 percent of Ukraine’s agricultural exports.
Some of the most prominent Ukrainian ports, such as Berdyansk, Mariupol, and Kherson, have already suffered extreme casualties. Cutting Ukraine off from the sea is a significant military target for the Russians because it would paralyze Ukraine’s trade. This would exacerbate the risk of rising global hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. If the U.S. and Allies fail to help Ukraine win this war as soon as possible, Ukraine’s progress to date will be lost.
Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat, grain, corn, sunflower, and rapeseed. In 2021/22 alone, Ukraine planned to export 20 tonnes of grain, 98 percent of that by sea. Since the invasion began, the supply of these critical agricultural products has collapsed.
According to Jörg-Simon Immerz, head of the grain trading at BayWA, an international agricultural group, “zero grain is currently being exported from the ports of Ukraine—nothing is leaving the country at all.” The Russian Navy prevented 200-300 Ukrainian ships from leaving the Black Sea. So far, it seems that only Egypt, which is reliant on agricultural imports from Ukraine and Russia, succeeded in finding a way around the Black Sea blockade and getting the grain.
Some have suggested transporting the grain by train, but that presents many logistical problems. The longer the war continues, the more expensive it becomes, especially for the poorest countries. The situation is especially dire in Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The wheat shortages have caused the price of bread in Sudan to nearly double. A week after the war started, the price of sunflower oil in Ethiopia went up by nearly 215 percent. Combined with droughts and the post-COVID crisis, the continued blockade of the Black Sea presents a fateful challenge to East Africa, where 90 percent of wheat imports come from Ukraine and Russia. A report by the Centre For Global Development found that as many as over 40 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty due to the war in Ukraine.
The interconnectedness of our world has made it difficult even for developed countries to escape the scourge of war. In the U.S., farmers have to adjust the amount of crops due to soaring fertilizer prices. A Bloomberg survey finds that American farmers will plant more soy over corn by 2 million acres this year. If the war drags on into 2023, it could be that neither will be possible to plant at all.
The war in Ukraine has also demonstrated that the European green agricultural agenda is not feasible. The Farm to Fork strategy would cut pesticides by 50 percent and increase organic food production from 7.5 percent to 25 percent. The EU is slowly realizing that it is very dependent on imports, and that a realistic food policy cannot include these supposed sustainability goals.
We have all seen what the Russians have done to civilians in Bucha and Irpin. If Russia seizes the Ukrainian South and controls one-third of global wheat supply, Putin won’t hesitate a second to take revenge for sanctions by depriving millions of the world’s poorest of Ukraine’s agricultural bounty. President Zelensky rightly said that Russia uses the Black Sea blockade and consequent starvation as a “weapon.”
Given the scope of disruption, it is only natural to wonder what can be done. The answer is simple: help Ukraine win this war.