KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An unprecedented wartime deal that has allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat and where high food prices push more people into poverty was extended just before its expiration date, officials said Saturday.
The United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the extension, but neither confirmed how long it would last. The UN, Turkey and Ukraine had asked for 120 days, while Russia said it was ready to accept 60 days.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted on Saturday that the deal would remain in place for the longer four-month period. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian news agency Tass that Moscow “has agreed to extend the agreement for 60 days”.
This is the second renewal of separate agreements that Ukraine and Russia signed with the United Nations and Turkey to allow food out of the Black Sea region after Russia invaded its neighbor more than a year ago.
The warring nations are the world’s two main suppliers of wheataffordable barley, sunflower oil and other food products that developing countries depend on.
Russia has complained that deliveries of its fertilizers – which its deal with Turkey and the UN was supposed to facilitate – are not accessing global markets, which has been a problem for Moscow since the deal took effect in August. It was nevertheless renewed in November for four additional months.
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that 25 million metric tons (about 28 million tonnes) of grain and foodstuffs had been delivered to 45 countries as part of of the initiative, helping to lower world food prices and stabilize markets.
“We remain firmly committed to both agreements and urge all parties to redouble their efforts to fully implement them,” Dujarric said.
The war in Ukraine has driven food prices to record highs last year and contributed to a global food crisis also linked to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climatic factors such as drought.
Disrupted grain shipments needed for staple foods in places like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria have exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more people into poverty. or food insecurity. People in developing countries spend more money on basics like food.
The crisis has left an estimated 345 million people facing food insecurity, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.
Food prices have fallen for 11 consecutive months, but food was already expensive before the war due to droughts from the Americas to the Middle East – the most devastating in the Horn of Africa, with thousands killed in Somalia. Poorer countries that rely on imported food priced in dollars spend more as their currency weakens.
The accords have also suffered setbacks since they were brokered by the UN and Turkey: Russia briefly withdrew in November before joining and extending the deal. In recent months, inspections to ensure ships only carry grain and not weapons have slowed down.
This has contributed to backlogs of vessels waiting in Turkish waters and a recent drop in the amount of grain get out of Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials and some US officials have blamed Russia for the slowdowns, which the country denies.
While fertilizers were blocked, Russia exported huge quantities of wheat after a record harvest. Figures from financial data provider Refinitiv showed Russian wheat exports more than doubled to 3.8 million tonnes in January from the same month a year ago, before the invasion.
According to Refinitiv, Russian wheat shipments hit or near record highs in November, December and January, rising 24% from the same three months a year earlier. He estimated that Russia will export 44 million tons of wheat in 2022-2023.
Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Elise Morton in London and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.
See full coverage of the war in Ukraine by AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and the food crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/food-crisis.