Ukraine starts harvest, but export to global markets remains largely blocked

Ukraine starts harvest, but export to global markets remains largely blocked
A grain field. Credit: Belga/ Nicolas Maeterlinck

Ukraine has started its wartime winter harvest in the Odesa region, however, with the ongoing closure of ports and farmers' lack of space to keep their produce, it is unlikely it will change the course of the path toward a global food crisis.

Before the invasion of Russia, Ukraine was seen as the “breadbasket of the world," as it was among the biggest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. However, Russia is now preventing grain from leaving the country, resulting in food prices skyrocketing across the world and warnings of a global hunger crisis being issued.

Despite the fact that the number of ploughed fields in Ukraine has dropped by a quarter since the start of Russia’s invasion, the country's Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food announced on Saturday that harvests in the country are underway, and that the areas where crops are being harvested have not decreased too signicantly.

In total, 1 million 61 thousand hectares of winter grain are to be harvested in Odesa region this year. In particular, 551 thousand hectares of winter wheat, 244 thousand hectares of winter barley, 50 thousand hectares of spring barley and 190 thousand hectares of rapeseed.

In normal times, the crops currently being harvested would be sent off to countries across the world via ports on the Black Sea, however, as Russia continues to block ports despite international efforts to reach a deal, meaning the export of any grain to global markets is prevented.

Some products are being transported by rail or road to other countries, but this process is much slower.

Lack of storage capacity

In many farms, freshly cut grain and other crops will instead be stuffed into massive polymer silo bags gathered on farmland because there’s nowhere else to put it, according to reports from Bloomberg. Silos are reportedly also still loaded with last year’s crops, resulting in the country asking European partners for help preserving its next crops.

This lack of storage capacity has also resulted in farmers fearing they won't be able to plant much next year, meaning that even if ports reopen, Ukraine’s ability to supply the world with much-needed grain may be limited.

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“We’ll dream next year about the problems we’re facing right now,” Dmitry Skornyakov, chief executive of HarvEast, which farms in eastern and northern Ukraine, told Bloomberg. “Because next year’s problems, trust me, will be much, much worse.”

In a recent statement, EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell warned that Russia’s war on Ukraine and its blocking of both Ukrainian grain exports and restricting its own exports threaten to create a global wave of hunger, adding that ending the war and enabling Ukraine to export its grains through the Black Sea is the only solution.

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