The importance of the U.N. Black Sea Grain Initiative

Combine harvesting wheat, stork flying over (© Alexey Furman/Getty Images)
A U.N. agreement enables more Ukrainian foodstuffs to reach markets worldwide, such as this wheat, seen July 29, 2022, near Myronivka, Ukraine. (© Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

The U.N.’s Black Sea Grain Initiative helps deliver Ukrainian food products to global markets and feed people in need.

The initiative, brokered by Türkiye and the United Nations last July, has already safely moved nearly 30 million metric tons of Ukrainian agricultural exports via the Black Sea.

U.N. data shows grain exported from Ukraine has reached people worldwide, including those in Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Calls to keep the deal going

“The global humanitarian benefits of the Initiative are evident,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general, said April 11. “It is in everyone’s interest to keep it going.”

The Black Sea Grain Initiative helps:

  • Calm markets.
  • Safeguard against price spikes.
  • Stabilize the world’s food supply.

Far-reaching benefits

China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, told reporters that Beijing would like to see the Black Sea deal continue. “Of course, that’s beneficial for the whole world,” he said, Reuters reported April 23. China is among countries receiving Ukrainian agricultural goods under the initiative.

Map showing shipping routes of Ukrainian grain around the world (State Dept./M. Gregory)
(State Dept./M. Gregory)

The Kremlin, however, has suggested it may walk away from the agreement, claiming too many obstacles remain for Russia to export grain and fertilizer.

But Russia’s fertilizer exports are at or above levels prior to the Kremlin’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to data from Russia’s trading partners. Russia stopped sharing export data in May 2022.

Caitlin Welsh, the director of the Global Food Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggests the Kremlin’s complaints are disingenuous. Russia “wants to be able to invade a major agricultural producer, cause disruption in global agricultural markets, and also not experience any disruptions itself,” she told Foreign Policy.

Costly Moscow delays

Man pushing probe into wheat cargo on ship (© Turkish Ministry of National Defense/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A man inspects Ukrainian wheat bound for Afghanistan as World Food Programme humanitarian aid on a ship in Istanbul on January 24. (© Turkish Ministry of National Defense/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russia also has been slowing down the flow of Ukrainian food to the world. Under the agreement, ships going into and exiting Black Sea ports must be inspected by all four parties to the initiative: Ukraine, Russia, Türkiye and the U.N. Politico reported the aim is to clear 12 cargoes a day. But in April only two vessels a day were inspected.

The delays mean ships sit idle, costing money each day and forcing countries to wait longer for Ukrainian agricultural goods.

In March, Guy Platten, the secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, hailed the Black Sea initiative: “The crews have been safe, so that’s a testament to how successful and how well thought-out it has been by the parties. On a political and a technical level it works.”

The U.N.’s Black Sea Grain Initiative website regularly updates vessel movements from Ukraine. The nearly 30 million metric tons figure is as of May 9.