The Ukrainian grain exports deal, which could collapse within weeks, is critical for millions of people in the Horn of Africa, where some are starving, the UN said.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative aimed at easing the global food crisis is set to expire at on July 17, unless Russia agrees to its renewal. Moscow remains unhappy about the operation of a parallel agreement.
If the export deal collapses, it would “absolutely hit eastern Africa very, very hard”, said Dominique Ferretti, the UN World Food Programme’s senior emergency officer in the region.
“There’s a number of countries that depend on Ukraine’s wheat. And without it, you would see significantly higher food prices,” he told reporters via video-link from Nairobi.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 saw Ukraine’s Black Sea ports blocked by warships until the deal, signed in July 2022, allowed for the passage of critical grain exports.
Ukraine was one of the world’s top producers and the grain deal has helped soothe the global food crunch triggered by the conflict.
Some 32.4 million tonnes have been exported under the agreement, according to the UN. Just over half the exports have been corn, while more than a quarter was wheat.
The initial 120-day agreement struck with the UN and Turkey last July has been extended three times: in November, March and in May.
The parallel agreement, between Moscow and the UN, is aimed at facilitating the export of Russian food and fertilisers, which are exempt from Western sanctions imposed on Moscow.
But Russia says the parallel agreement is not being upheld.
On June 13, Russia again threatened to pull the plug, arguing that certain clauses were not being respected, despite successive UN assurances.