Some £6.8bn of wheat is sitting in Ukraine unable to be exported because the war has blocked off access to the sea, the president of the European Investment Bank has warned.
Ukraine was the world’s sixth-largest exporter of wheat last year, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted shipping in the Black Sea, a major route for grains and other commodities.
African markets, many of which were already struggling with food shortages, are among the worst-affected, but the United Nations has already warned that the fall in exports could see food and feed prices worldwide rise by up to 22%.
Speaking on Tuesday, the European Investment Bank’s Werner Hoyer said: “Ukraine is a rich country. Ukraine is the wheat basket of Europe, and it’s sitting on €8bn (£6.8bn) worth of wheat right now from last year’s harvest.
“They cannot export it, they have no access to the sea.
“This is one of the key issues that we must address, because they are industrious people.
“They are sowing like crazy right now, and they will expect probably a good harvest, maybe 70% of last year’s harvest, in a couple of months – and then what to do with it?
“So these are issues that need to be addressed immediately, in addition to the social needs and the daily problems that Ukrainian citizens face.”
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Developing countries are the most reliant on Ukrainian wheat and many of them were already seeing record-high food prices before the war due to problems such as drought, and internal conflict.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said in April that the cost of a food basket in Ethiopia had risen 66% and the cost in Somalia was up 36%, while S&P Global Intelligence said Egypt imports up to 80% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.
Bangladesh, Turkey, Yemen, and Lebanon are also among the most vulnerable to any shortage of Ukrainian wheat.
The WFP also buys half of its wheat from Ukraine before distributing it to countries around the world – rising food and fuel prices have seen its monthly operating costs rise by 50%, just as more people need its help.
But developing countries are not the only ones watching the situation nervously – Ukraine was the second-largest supplier of grains (a category which includes wheat and corn) to the European Union last year, supplying 14% of EU grain imports in terms of volume.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked his allies to take immediate measures to unlock his country’s ports for wheat exports but, for many, time is short.
Abebe Haile-Gabriel, assistant director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and its representative for Africa, told Reuters: “This Ukraine war’s impact is overlapping with a crisis that has already been unfolding in some African countries.
“We have a very grim outlook going forward.”