Ukraine sent its first grain shipment since Russia’s invasion began on Monday, as part of a deal aimed at alleviating global food shortages.
According to Ukrainian officials and the Turkish government, which helped broker the deal, the ship left the port of Odessa with 26,000 metric tons of corn bound for Tripoli, Lebanon. The Razoni, a Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier, is expected to arrive in Istanbul on Tuesday and then continue on its way after inspections.
The shipment is the first test of a deal struck last month to allow Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, to begin shipping the 18 million metric tons trapped in the country by Russia’s invasion in February.
While the beginning of shipments is encouraging for Ukrainian farmers and the country’s primarily developing-world buyers, the flow of corn, wheat, and barley will remain lower than before the war. It will take months to clear the grain backlog, and the war is expected to deplete this season’s harvests. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Ukraine will export 30.6 million metric tons of grains and seeds in 2022-23, nearly half the amount exported the previous season.
A Ukrainian government vessel escorted the Razoni out of the port in the strategic southern city of Odessa. Inspection teams from Turkey, the United Nations, and Russia are set to inspect the ships involved in the deal.
Additional ships are expected to depart in the coming days, with several already loaded prior to the Russian invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky oversaw the first grain loading at Chornomorsk port, near Odessa, since February.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, called the resumption of grain exports a “day of relief for the world, particularly for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.”
The resumption of shipments provides hope for vital income for Ukraine, whose economy is collapsing under the weight of Russia’s invasion. According to the US Department of Agriculture, farming accounted for more than 40% of Ukrainian exports prior to the war and employs 14% of the country’s population. It could provide a lifeline to Ukraine’s beleaguered farmers, providing them with hard cash to purchase the seeds, fuel, and fertilizer needed to sow their next crops and ensure their survival.
Prior to the war, Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly one-third of all global wheat exports. Ukraine was also a significant corn and barley exporter. After months of negotiations, Ankara and the United Nations helped broker the July 22 agreement.
The ship’s departure on Monday shows that Ukraine, along with Turkey and the United Nations, are determined to carry out the grain deal despite Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian agricultural infrastructure. Senior Ukrainian officials are skeptical that Russia will keep its end of the bargain. On July 23, just hours after officials from all four parties signed the agreement in Istanbul, Russian missiles struck the port of Odessa. According to Russian officials, the strike was aimed at military infrastructure.
The agreement requires Ukraine and Russia to refrain from attacking grain-carrying ships and from striking at three ports covered by the agreement. Officials from all four parties will monitor the transaction from a new control center in Istanbul.
According to UN officials, one or more ships will likely leave Ukraine under the agreement in the early days, in part to demonstrate that the agreement can work. The offer is valid for 120 days and can be extended.
Ukrainian pilots will guide commercial ships between sea mines that Ukraine has placed near its ports to defend against Russian attacks, according to the agreement. Ukraine was hesitant to remove any mines, claiming that doing so would expose the country to additional attacks.
Global wheat prices have already fallen significantly in recent weeks from their post-Russian invasion highs, and are now close to prewar levels. However, wheat is still more than double the price it was five years ago and roughly the same price it was in late 2010 and early 2011, when high food prices aided the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East.