Thursday Jul 18, 2024

Blocked Ukrainian Grain Export: Will it be Found the Solution Soon?

As international media reported, Military delegations from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey have made some progress in talks on resolving the problem of blocked by Russia grain exports from Ukraine to world market. Turkish MoD Hulusi Akar said in a statement on July 13 after the talks that they agreed on “joint controls” at ports and on ways to “ensure the safety of the transfer routes” across the Black Sea. After the meeting next week in Turkey, “all the details will be reviewed once again and the work we have done will be signed,” Akar said.

In this regard, NGRN publishes conceptual points on the problem of the consequences of Russian war against Ukraine for the world food market and global food security.

  • Ukraine is one of the biggest suppliers of foods such as sunflower oil, wheat and corn for the low-income countries worldwide as well as for the international development organizations.
  • Ukraine had a record-breaking grain harvest in 2021, collecting 107 million metric tons. Agricultural and food sector represents almost 10% of its GDP of Ukraine. Last year, we exported food products totaling almost $28 billion to the world, including 7 billion euros ($7.4 billion) to the EU.
  • Ukraine’s exports comprise more than 10% of all wheat, 14% of all corn and 47% of all sunflower oil in the world. On average, 50 mmt of agricultural products were exported from Ukraine annually. In record years, this figure reached even 65 mmt.
  • Today it is not possible to find alternative suppliers and replace such volumes of agricultural products from Ukraine. Experts claim it is literally impossible even within the next 3-5 years.
  • Experts emphasize that more than 400 mln people in the world depend on grain supplies from Ukraine. The population of most of these countries traditionally suffers from food shortages and even hunger. Dependence of countries on Ukrainian supplies (the share of Ukrainian main commodities in the country’s total imports, according to ITC, 2020, 2021):
  • Wheat: Egypt – 26%; Indonesia – 27%, Turkey – 18%, Pakistan – 46%, Morocco – 15%, Bangladesh -23%, Libya – 44%, Tunisia – 42%, Ethiopia – 26%, Lebanon – 80%, Yemen – 22%, Israel – 20%.
  • Corn: EU27 – 32%, China – 55%, Egypt – 26%, Turkey – 32%.
  • Sunflower oil: EU27 – 62%, China – 59%, India – 75%, Turkey – 5%, Iraq – 74%.
  • The war in Ukraine poses a threat to global food security, which is particularly acute today in some of the MENA region countries (Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Israel, Libya, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) and Asian countries (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan), which are the main buyers of wheat and corn on the world markets).
  • Russia’s attack has changed the world’s food supply chains. Products that Ukraine will not be able deliver to the world market provoke a chain reaction: developed countries are increasing their stocks, many countries are limiting trade in the background of uncertainty. As a result, prices are rising even more and risk of a hunger in poorer countries is rising.
  • The war has affected about 25% of the world cereal trade and has caused an increase in world prices, food inflation and reduced access to food in the countries that import food from Ukraine. In particular, those are wheat and sunflower oil.
  • According to the World Bank commodity markets outlook, many foods are set to see steep rises in their costs. The UN food prices index already shows they are at their highest since records began 60 years ago.
  • Due to the war Ukraine has lost about 20% of sown area this year (territory is occupied or under hostilities). About 13.5 mln hectares were used for spring sowing campaign (in 2021 – 16.9 mln hectares). For winter grain 7.6 mln hectares were used in fall 2021.
  • The full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine caused damages to the agricultural sector of the country for the total amount of $4.29 billion.

What is important, Ukraine and Ukrainian farmers are ready to fulfill their obligations in supplying grain and other agriculture products to the world market as soon as our seaports are unblocked and free to navigate.

  • Spring sowing campaign in Ukraine has been finished. A total of 13.4 mln hectares, or 95% of the projected area, were sown that is also 20% less than in 2021:
  • However, in the absence of timely input of fertilizers, the yields will be significantly lower. Experts estimate 10-15% yields less than a year before.
  • Market analysts has increased their May forecast regarding the harvest volumes in 2022 Ukrainian agrarians should expect this year – about 70 mmt of grain and oilseeds crops from the seeded area of about 19.1 mln hectares (the previous forecast was 66.5 mmt). The total harvest of oil crops in 2022 is expected to reach almost 16.3 mmt, while in 2021 it was 22.8 mmt.
  • The forecast for Ukraine’s grain and oilseeds export in 2022/23 marketing year is about 31 mmt in the limited conditions of the blockade of the Black Sea ports, but with increased current logistics routs and capacities (in 2021/2022 MY Ukraine’s grain and oilseeds export reached 61.5 mmt). The forecast of export in 2022/23 МY by main commodities: wheat – 10 mmt; corn – 10 mmt; barley – 2 mmt; sunflower oil – 6 mmt.
  • The Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine preliminarily forecasts the total gross harvest of cereals, legumes and oilseeds at about 60-65 mmt in 2022 (that is about 40% less than in 2021).

Logistics is the key issue for Ukrainian traders to export grain and oilseeds

  • Ukraine’s aim is to continue its exports according to its international obligations.
  • Before war, Ukraine exported 5-6 mmt of agricultural products on monthly basis; 90% out of this volume were exported from seaports in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea.
  • Nowadays, the traditional logistics chains were broken. Ukraine has already adjusted new logistics routes to supply grain to the world market by trucks, railway and river transport.
  • In April using available infrastructure capabilities we managed to export about 1.2 mmt of grain and oilseed with increasing volumes up to about 1.8 mmt in May and in June export reached 2.17 mmt of agricultural products, which is 20% more than in May (according to UA Minagro).
  • However, at this rate it would take years to export the current grain stockpile in addition to a new harvest arrival unless the military situation on the Black Sea rapidly improves.
  • Russia’s invasion also caused transportation costs to soar. The price to deliver this year’s harvested barley to the closest Romanian port, Constanta, is now $160 to $180 per ton, up from $40 to $45. And yet a farmer selling barley to a trader gets less than $100 per ton.
  • Most farmers are facing bankruptcy risks. They don’t have any other option but to sell their grain cheaper than its cost.
  • The problem of blocked exports will be compounded by the arrival of a fresh harvest, the harvesting campaign of winter grain has already started – 1.1 mmt of new crop grain were threshed up to date.
  • Grain exports from Ukraine have been suspended through the blockade of the ports by russian warships. Currently, russia is blocking around 40 commercial vessels loaded with agricultural commodities in the Black Sea (around 1 mmt of grain, corn and oilseeds).
  • Ukraine currently has three export Danube port terminals that are operating – Izmail (1.5 mmt per year), Reni (4 mmt per year) and Kiliya (0.4 mmt per year). Their capacity is very limited, compared with Odesa and Mykolaiv ports.
  • By Danube river ports we manage to export about 30% of current export volumes.
  • The focus now is to enable a large increase in rail and road shipments. Ukraine works closely with the European Commission and neighboring EU MSs to rearrange supply chains and establish alternative routes for agricultural products (wheat, corn, soybean, rapeseed, barley, sunflower, sunflower oil, meal (shrot), pomace).

The maximum capacity through these routes could be: by road transport – 0.2 mmt per month, railway – 1.5 mmt per month, maritime transport (Danube, Izmail and Kiliya rivers) – 0.6 mmt per month.

  • On June 29, 2022 Ukraine and the EU signed an agreement on road freight transport. It eliminates the need for Ukrainian carriers to obtain appropriate permits for bilateral and transit traffic to EU countries and allows avoiding cessation of the export of Ukrainian products through motor vehicle checkpoints.
  • Border countries responded to the problem of grain exports from Ukraine to third countries and either has significantly simplified the procedures for processing cargo transportation or are actively working on this simplifying phytosanitary procedures.
  • The EU presented action plan “Solidarity Lanes” designed to facilitate land exports of Ukraine’s stocks of food products to address technical and bureaucratic initiatives in order to speed up the shipping of vegetable oils, corn and wheat. The EC is considering alternative land routes via neighboring countries besides the removing some trade barriers with Kyiv and increasing throughput at EU boarder’s checkpoints.
  • On June 13, 2022, the EU introduced the Grain Ways platform “Grainlane” (, which offers the first features of a grain trading platform, accelerating the process of aligning opportunities between supply and demand. If the Grainlane is successful, more features might be added, like requirements for border crossings or a demand database for short-term logistics. Additionally, companies Transporeon and Railneteurope have finished creating an e-platform/application to reflect the transportation of agricultural products from one location to another for the EUC’s order.
  • Due to the armed aggression of the russian federation, the temporary occupation of territories and the blocking of seaports, by the end of October 2022, Ukraine may experience a storage capacity shortage of 10-15 mmt. It is crucial to engage partners for the construction of temporary grain elevators along the western borders of Ukraine.
  • The liberation of the Snake Island from the russian troops made it possible to use the Bystre estuary canal and the Danube-Black Sea shipping lane for the entry and exit of vessels transporting agricultural products from Danube river ports. This would also let Ukrainian maritime pilots to participate in navigation through the channel. In the last four days, 16 ships have passed through this route. According the Ministry of Infrastructure estimates, this additional shipping route through the Bystre rivermouth will end ship congestion near the Sulina canal within a week and will allow increasing monthly exports of grain by 500,000 tons.

Russia is committing food terrorism by purposefully destroying agricultural infrastructure and stealing Ukrainian grain and agricultural machinery.

  • The missile strikes of russian troops damaged and destroyed many farms, stocks of food and seeds, silos, warehouses, oil depots, agriculture machinery and equipment.
  • There are credible reports of looting Ukrainian grain by russian military from the temporarily occupied territories in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. A lot of other testimonies and evidence confirm that russian occupiers have seized already about 500,000 tons of grain crops, which is almost a third of the stocks left there for sowing and domestic consumption needs.
  • According to satellite images russian-flagged ships are carrying grain harvested in Ukraine and transporting it from russian-controlled Crimean port of Sevastopol and from port of Berdyansk (Zaporizhzhya region) mainly to Syria, Turkey or Lebanon.
  • Up to now 41 bulk carriers under mostly under russian and Syrian flags were identified to transport the looted Ukrainian grain. In most of the cases, these ships switch off its Automatic Identification Systems transponders (AIS) to hide the fact of loading in the occupied ports of Crimea.
  • The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has previously warned consumer countries that grain consignments sold by russia might contain partially or in full stolen grain seized as a result of looting by russian troops. Numerous testimonies from Ukrainian farmers and documented evidence serve as proof of russia’s plunder of Ukrainian grain.
  • Kremlin is using hunger as a tactic to obliterate Ukrainian identity nearly 90 years after the Holodomor. We demand that russia end grain theft, open Ukrainian ports, restore freedom of navigation, and allow commerce ships to sail through in order to prevent a humanitarian calamity and a global food crisis.
  • The illegal export of Ukrainian grain is another example of russia’s destructive acts, which, in particular, contravene the fundamental principles of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – achieving food security for all and overcoming hunger. The aggressor state’s policy puts into doubt the relevance of its participation in FAO and other international organizations.
  • russia might seek to turn the situation further to its own advantage when it comes to food. Not only could Moscow steal Ukraine’s share of the global market for commodities like corn and wheat, but also it will attempt to whitewash its image as a charitable provider to poor countries, just as it blockades Ukraine’s own supplies.
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba urged the international community to reject the Kremlin’s “food blackmail” namely russian call for lifting or reducing reduce sanction pressure against russia in exchange for the opening of commercial routes through the Black Sea.
  • The russian foreign ministry has manipulated the publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to deny russia’s contribution to the world food crisis. Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Oleg Nikolenko comments – ( FAO publication in English – ( and Arabic – (
  • Apart from the direct damage to the lands – the occupation, military actions, and mining pollution limit farmers’ access to the fields and opportunities to collect the harvest. It will result in unharvested winter crops across many of the war-affected areas. Approximately 2.4 mln hectares of winter crops could be unharvested, resulting in $1.435 billion in damages.
  • According to a joint prediction by the OECD and the UN’s food and agricultural organization, global agricultural output will increase by 1.1% annually and food consumption will rise by 1.4% in the coming ten years. Therefore, experts believe that it won’t be possible to end hunger by 2030 (this goal is now set by the UN). To achieve this, the world agro-industrial complex’s performance must increase by 28% in ten years, which is three times more than the 2010–2020 indicator.

What can be done?

  • Any attempt to divert our attention to the issues that are implications of russia’s ongoing violations, any attempt to equate them with the root cause would only help Moscow to further use food exports as a weapon. Ukraine, in its turn, does its best to secure the country’s export potential to the largest extent possible to ensure those depending on our export will not suffer from hunger.
  • We call on the international community to condemn russia’s actions, to demand withdrawal of its troops from Ukraine and the end to the blockades of the Ukrainian ports, to strengthen economic sanctions in order to stop armed aggression against Ukraine and to prevent further humanitarian catastrophe and worsening of world hunger.
  • We discuss with our partners the ways to establish an international mission – humanitarian corridor – under the auspices of the United Nations, which will take over the functioning of maritime routes for the export of Ukrainian agricultural goods.
  • On July 13, 2022 the first round negotiations between Ukraine, Turkey, the russian federation and the UN regarding the functioning of sea corridors for the export of Ukrainian grain took place in Istanbul.
  • The Ukrainian delegation noted some progress in these negotiations. We appreciate a significant contribution of the UN and Turkey to these negotiations. In the coming days, the President of Ukraine will discuss the details with the UN Secretary General.
  • We assume that the unblocking of Ukrainian ports is one of the key components of global food security. Ukraine is making significant efforts to restore the supply of food to the world market. It should be done as soon as possible.
  • However, the security remains the key issue for Ukraine. We cannot rule out russia’s plans to use such humanitarian corridor to attack Odesa and southern Ukraine.
  • That is why effective security guarantees are needed to restore navigation. Such guarantees should be provided by supplying Ukraine with appropriate weapons to protect the coastline from threats from the sea. The strong position of our arm forces in the Black Sea region will allow to restore the safe navigation and to ensure the national and regional security. This is a priority for Ukraine.
  • Regarding the actual issue of grain looting in Ukraine, we emphasize that the Ukrainian side raises this issue constantly at international institutions and during bilateral and multilateral discussions with foreign partners at all levels.
  • We warn consumer countries not to buy stolen Ukrainian grain. Consignments exported by russia could contain stolen grain obtained as a result of russian occupation authorities’ plundering. We will monitor every illegal shipment of grain being exported from Ukraine. Any country that knowingly purchases stolen grain is considered to be complicit in the crime.

Food price increases are having devastating effects on the poorest and most vulnerable. To inform and stabilize markets, it is critical that countries make clear statements now of future output increases in response to russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Countries should make concerted efforts to increase the supply of energy and fertilizer, help farmers increase plantings and crop yields, and remove policies that block exports and imports, divert food to biofuel, or encourage unnecessary storage.

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