Russia leaves U.N. grain deal, threatening world food supply

Millions of tons of grain intended for hungry people worldwide sit in Ukrainian ports now that Russia has walked away from the U.N.’s Black Sea Grain Initiative.

“Every shipment under the Initiative has contributed to reducing hardship in the world’s poorest countries, since bringing grain to world markets lowers food prices for all,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said July 17.

Russia announced July 17 that it will no longer participate in the initiative, which the United Nations and Türkiye brokered in July 2022. The deal had safely moved more than 32 million metric tons of Ukrainian agricultural exports via the Black Sea.

The initiative also has helped reduce food prices by over 23% since March 2022, according to the United Nations.

Dire consequences

Officials worldwide have called on Russia to honor the agreement, laying out real-life consequences.

“Hundreds of millions of people face hunger and consumers are confronting a global cost-of-living crisis,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said July 17. “They will pay the price.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said July 17 that China hopes that the Black Sea Grain Initiative “will continue to be balanced and fully implemented.”

China is among countries receiving Ukrainian agricultural goods under the initiative. Grain exported from Ukraine had reached people worldwide. That includes people in some of the world’s most food-insecure countries, such as Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan. Other recipients include Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya and Tunisia.

Graphic with depictions of wheat grains in map of Ukraine, with text on grain shipped from Ukrainian ports (State Dept./M. Gregory. Image: © minizen/
(State Dept./M. Gregory)

“The decision by Russia to exit the Black Sea Grain Initiative is a stab on the back at global food security prices and disproportionately impacts countries in the Horn of Africa already impacted by drought,” said Korir Sing’Oei, Kenya’s principal secretary of foreign affairs.

Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister, called the initiative “critical to ensuring the predictable supply of food, including to our partners in the Indo-Pacific and Africa.”

The head of the European Union’s diplomacy, Josep Borrell, called Russia’s move “unjustified.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, “Russia has dealt another blow to the world’s most vulnerable.”

World’s hungriest affected

The Black Sea Grain Initiative also had supplied Ukrainian grain to the U.N.’s World Food Programme, the largest humanitarian organization in the world fighting hunger and food insecurity.

Cindy McCain, executive director of the World Food Programme, called the initiative “a lifeline to millions during an unprecedented global hunger crisis.” She said, “Struggling families around the world do not deserve to be collateral victims of this war.”

The U.S. is the largest contributor to the World Food Programme.

Machine scooping grain from large pile and loading it onto ship (© Andrew Kravchenko/AP)
A U.N. initiative had enabled Ukraine to safely export its grain through its Black Sea ports. Above, an excavator loads grain into a cargo ship at a grain port in Izmail, Ukraine, on April 26. (© Andrew Kravchenko/AP)

Calls on Russia to reconsider

The Kremlin said it withdrew from the agreement because too many obstacles remain for Russia to export grain and fertilizer.

But analysts and export data indicate that Russia is exporting grain and fertilizer at the same levels, if not higher.

Leaders called on Russia to reconsider. “We urge the Government of Russia to reverse its decision,” Blinken said.