Russia’s war in Ukraine and grain blockade are fueling a global food crisis

With few good solutions – one advanced option appears to be a risky naval escort – the United States and its allies have sought to make clear who they feel responsible for.

Accusing Russia of “blackmail”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week that the Kremlin was withholding its own grain supplies after raiding Ukrainian storage facilities and seizing stocks, while blocking country ports.

“The consequences of these shameful acts are there for all to see. World wheat prices are soaring. And it is fragile countries and vulnerable populations who suffer the most,” she added in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which countries in the Middle East and Africa rely on to feed millions who subsist on subsidized bread.

The lack of Ukrainian grain is driving up food prices and pushing countries already facing shortages towards starvation. Davos leaders highlighted the link between the blocked ports of Odessa and the millions of people at risk of starvation in countries like Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, Somalia and beyond.

And this pain could last for years all over the world.

Because many farmers here have missed a crucial planting window, not only can they not move the sunflowers, wheat, corn and other agricultural products they have stored, but they may not have much grown at the time of the next harvest.

The invasion of a country that also provided a fifth of the world’s nutrient supply for fertilizers is also having a similar detrimental effect on crop yields in countries thousands of miles away, according to the International Development Center fertilizers. Russia and Belarus, under sanctions following the invasion, account for 40 percent of crop nutrient potash.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned last week that dwindling food supplies caused by the war in Ukraine, the pandemic and climate change could lead to global unrest.

“If we don’t feed people, we feed conflict,” he said.

Russia, however, denies being at fault and has sought to shift the blame to the West.

The Kremlin signaled this week that it was ready to lift the blockade and export its own grain and fertilizer, but only if the United States and its allies lifted sanctions imposed following the invasion.

Bad train wheels, no airplanes and cars in reverse

A Ukrainian explosive ordnance disposal unit had to extract a missile from an agricultural field that NBC News visited this month near Kyiv before farmers could plant there. Trenches and foxholes were still being dug in parts of the terrain.

Farm workers had maintained a schedule of eight hours of work, eight hours of duty in homeland defense and eight hours of sleep as Russian forces advanced towards the capital. Residents with Kalashnikovs still maintain strict checkpoints near fields and agricultural infrastructure.

While Kremlin forces are long gone, there is still a lingering fear that Russian missiles will target grain storage and agricultural fields to further undermine Ukraine’s economy, Taras Ivanyshyn, the investment director of Agro- Region, a large agricultural company, said along a dirt road that adjoined a field owned by his company.

But they can’t do much about it. The main challenge now, Ivanyshyn explained, is moving the tons of grain stuck in their stores.

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