February 7, 2023

Beirut (AFP) – A ship carrying corn to the port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon usually does not cause a stir. But it gets attention because of its source: the Ukrainian port of Odessa on the Black Sea.

The Razoni River, loaded with more than 26,000 tons of corn to feed chickens, is emerging from the brink of a Russian war that has threatened food supplies In countries like Lebanon, which has the highest food inflation rate in the world – at a staggering 122% – and relies on the Black Sea region for the production of almost all of its wheat.

Fighting trapped 20 million tons of grain inside Ukraine, and the departure of the razoni Monday marks the first major step towards extracting that food supply and bringing it to farms and bakeries to feed the millions of starving poor in Africa.Middle East and parts of Asia.

“Seeing the shipment move is a big deal actually,” said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. “That’s 26,000 tons in the 20 million tons scale that’s been locked up—nothing at all…but if we start seeing this, every shipment that goes will increase confidence.”

Small volume means the primary shipments leaving the world’s breadbasket It won’t lower food prices or ease the global food crisis anytime soon. Plus, experts say most of the trapped grain is meant for animal feed, not for people to eat. This will extend the ramifications of war to the world’s most vulnerable people thousands of miles away in countries like Somalia and Afghanistan, where hunger may soon turn into famine and where inflation has pushed the cost of food and energy out of reach for many.

For farmers in LebanonThe expected shipment this weekend is a sign that grain may become more available again, even if at a higher price, Ibrahim Tarshichi, head of the Bekaa Farmers Association, said.

But he said it would not affect his country, where years of endemic corruption and political divisions have turned life upside down. Since 2019, the economy has shrunk by at least 58%, with the currency devaluing so sharply that half the population now lives in poverty.

“I think the crisis will continue as long as operating costs continue to rise and purchasing power is reduced,” Tarchichi said.

The conflict came into sharp relief this week when a section of the massive grain silos in Beirut port collapsed amid a huge cloud of dust, two years after a massive explosion killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more.

While the shipments are symbolic, they did little to allay market fears. Drought and high fertilizer costs drove grain prices more than 50% higher than in early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic. While Ukraine is the largest supplier of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil to developing countries, it accounts for only 10% of international wheat trade.

There is also little to suggest that the world’s poorest who depend on Ukrainian wheat distributed through UN agencies like the World Food Program will be able to access them anytime soon. Before the war, it was half of the grain purchased by the World Food Program for distribution It came from Ukraine.

The safe passage of the Razuni Pass was secured by a four-month agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey with Ukraine and Russia two weeks ago. The grain corridor through the Black Sea is 111 nautical miles long and 3 nautical miles wide, and drifting explosive mines are dotted with it, slowing down the action.

Three more ships left on Friday for Turkey, Ireland and the United Kingdom. All the ships that have left so far have been stuck there since the start of the war about six months ago.

Under the agreement, some – but not all – of the food exported will go to food-insecure countries. This means that it can take weeks for people to see grain from the new shipments, and even longer to see the effects on higher food prices, said Sean Ferris, an agriculture and markets advisor for Catholic Relief Services and a partner with Catholic Relief. World Food Program Distributions.

In East Africa, thousands of people have died as neighboring Somalia and Ethiopia and Kenya face their worst drought in four decades. Survivors described burying their children as they fled to camps where there is little help.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Somalia and other African countries turned to unconventional grain partners such as India, Turkey and Brazil, but at higher prices. Ferris said prices for critical foods could start to fall within two or three months as markets for imported foods adjust to the advancement of local crops.

Ferris said deciding who is first in the grain order from Ukraine may be influenced by humanitarian needs, but could also be due to existing business arrangements and commercial interests, including who is willing to pay more.

“Ukraine is not a charity,” he said. “It will look to get the best deals in the market” to maintain its fragile economy.

The World Food Program said this week that it plans to buy, load and ship 30,000 tons of wheat from Ukraine on a UN chartered vessel. He did not say where the ship would go or when that voyage would take place.

In Lebanon, where Mercy Corps says the price of wheat flour has risen more than 200% since the start of the Russian war, people have stood in long and often tense queues outside bakeries for subsidized bread in recent days.

The green government has lit up a $150 million World Bank loan to import wheat, a temporary fix for six to nine months before it has to lift bread subsidies entirely.

While the situation is difficult for millions of Lebanese, nearly a million Syrian refugees in the country who have fled the civil war across the border face stigma and discrimination in an effort to buy bread.

A Syrian living in northern Lebanon said it often takes three to four visits to bakeries before he finds someone to sell his bread to, with the Lebanese given priority. He described queues of 100 people waiting and only a few allowed every half hour to buy a small bundle of loaves.

“We receive all kinds of rude comments because we are Syrians, which we usually ignore, but sometimes it’s too much and we decide to go home empty-handed,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.


Elbatrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya.


Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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