The Black Sea Grain Initiative: what it is and why it matters to the world


1) A deal to get vital supplies moving again

Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, normally supplies about 45 million tons of grain to the world market every year, but after the invasion of Russia of the country, in late February 2022, heaps of grain piled up in silos, with ships unable to ensure safe passage to and from Ukrainian ports, and land routes unable to compensate.

This contributed to a jump in the price of staple foods around the world. Combined with the rise in energy costs, developing countries were pushed to the brink of debt and an increasing number of people found themselves on the brink of famine.

On July 22, the UN, the Russian Federation, Türkiye and Ukraine agreed on the Grain Initiative of the Black Seaduring a signing ceremony in the Turkish capital Istanbul.

The agreement allowed exports of grain, other foodstuffs and fertilizers, including ammonia, to resume from Ukraine via a secure maritime humanitarian corridor from three key Ukrainian ports: Chornomorsk, Odessa and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi to the rest of the world.

To execute the deal, a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) was established in Istanbul, composed of senior representatives of the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine and the United Nations.

Under procedures issued by the JCC, ships wishing to participate in the initiative will undergo an inspection off the coast of Istanbul to ensure they are empty and then sail through the maritime humanitarian corridor to Ukrainian ports for loading. The corridor is established by the JCC and monitored 24/7 to ensure the safe passage of ships. Ships on the return journey will also be inspected in the Istanbul inspection area.

UN news

Joint Coordinating Center for the Black Sea Grain Initiative

2) Millions of tons left Ukraine

Shipments controlled by the initiative began to depart from August 1. By the end of the month, more than 100 ships loaded with more than a million tons of grain and other foodstuffs had left Ukraine. In mid-September, the JCC reported that about three million tons had left Ukraine, indicating positive progress. It is hoped that eventually up to five million tons will be exported each month.

According to UN figures, 51 percent of the cargo so far (as of mid-September?) consists of maize, 25 percent wheat, 11 percent sunflower products, six percent rapeseed, five percent barley, one percent soybeans and one percent other foodstuffs.

Woman in India shifts grain (stop)

World Bank/Ray Witlin

Woman in India shifts grain (stop)

3) About a third of shipments go directly to lower-income countries

25 percent of the cargo went to low- and lower-middle-income countries. Egypt (8 percent), India and Iran (4 percent each), Bangladesh, Kenya and Sudan (2 percent each), Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti (1 percent each), and Tunisia (less than one percent)

This includes UN chartered ships that deliver humanitarian food aid – the World Food Program (WFP) bought wheat – to the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Two UN chartered ships have already left Ukraine, with two more expected soon. The WFP had so far purchased 120,000 tons of wheat to support humanitarian aid in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The first ship chartered by the WFP docked in Djibouti on August 30 to support the drought in the Horn of Africa. A second UN chartered ship, loaded with 37,500 tons of wheat, sailed on August 30 and docked in Türkiye on September 3, where the wheat will be ground into flour.

This flour is then loaded onto another ship bound for Yemen to support the humanitarian aid provided by the World Food Program there. The third and fourth ships chartered by WFP will also deliver wheat to relief operations.

About 25 percent of the grain has gone to upper-middle-income countries, including Türkiye, China and Bulgaria; and 50 percent to high-income countries such as Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Germany, France, Greece, Ireland and Israel.

The UN points out that all the grain coming out of Ukrainian ports thanks to the initiative will benefit those in need, as it will help calm markets and limit food price inflation.

All ship movements can be found on the Black Sea Grain Initiativewebsitewhich also contains useful facts and figures.

Secretary General António Guterres watches grain being loaded onto the Kubrosliy ship in Odessa, Ukraine.

UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary General António Guterres watches grain being loaded onto the Kubrosliy ship in Odessa, Ukraine.

4) Food prices fall

There are strong signs that the Initiative is succeeding in one of its key objectives, which is to lower food prices.

At a press conference in mid-September, Rebecca Grynspanthe Secretary-General of the UN Trade Agency, known as UNCTAD, and Amir Abdulla, the UN Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, welcomed the fact that prices have fallen for five months in a row: the Food Price Index is down nearly 14 percent from its peak in March this year.

Mr Abdulla explained that falling prices meant that those who had been hoarding grain, hoping to sell at a higher profit, were now selling, meaning there is now more food in the markets leading to further price drops. Ms. Grynspan, who is also the UN Global Coordinator Task Team set up to help countries cope with the triple economic shocks exacerbated by the effects of the war in Ukraine, pointed out that this is making a huge difference in a global cost of living crisis.

Globally, a record 345 million people in more than 80 countries currently face acute food insecurity, while up to 50 million people in 45 countries are at risk of starvation without humanitarian aid.

In August, WFP . Executive Director David Beasley stated that opening the Black Sea ports is “the single most important thing we can do now to help the world’s hungry”. He warned that while this in itself would not stop world hunger, bringing Ukrainian grain back to world markets would increase the likelihood that the global food crisis would not worsen further.

Secretary General António Guterres (left) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the signing ceremony of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in Istanbul, Türkiye.

UNIC Ankara/Levent Kulu

Secretary General António Guterres (left) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the signing ceremony of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in Istanbul, Türkiye.

5) Ongoing collaboration is necessary for lasting success

The UN is well aware that to ensure that shipments leave Ukrainian ports smoothly, the continued cooperation of Ukraine and Russia is necessary. Mr Abdulla praised the “spirit of cooperation” between the parties to the initiative. He also pointed to the special role that Türkiye and the UN play in keeping the process moving.

But with no clear end in sight for the war, the future is uncertain.

The current Initiative may extend beyond the original 120 days from the July 22 signature date, if the parties so choose. The JCC team in Istanbul is already thinking about extending the deal. Mr Abdulla remains positive and expresses his hope that “with the UN mediation efforts it will not really be an issue”.

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