KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An unprecedented war deal allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices are driving more people into poverty was extended just before its due 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 pushed for 120 days, while Russia said it was ready to agree to 60 days.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted on Saturday that the deal will remain in place for an extended four-month period. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russia’s Tass news agency that Moscow “agreed to extend the deal 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 to leave the Black Sea region after Russia invaded its neighbor more than a year ago.
The warring nations are both major global suppliers of wheatbarley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products on which developing countries depend.
Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilizers — which should facilitate the deal with Turkey and the UN — are not making it to global markets, which has been a problem for Moscow since the deal first came into effect in August. Nevertheless, it was extended for another four months in November.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that 25 million tons (about 28 million metric tons) of grain and foodstuffs were moved to 45 countries under the initiative, helping to lower global food prices and stabilizing markets.
“We remain strongly committed to both agreements and we urge all parties to redouble their efforts to fully implement them,” Dujarric said.
Due to the war in Ukraine, food prices rose to record highs last year and has contributed to a global food crisis also linked to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate factors such as drought.
The disruption to grain shipments needed for basic dietary needs in places like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more into poverty or food insecurity. People in developing countries spend more of their money on basic needs such as food.
According to the UN’s World Food Programme, an estimated 345 million people were food insecure as a result of the crisis.
Food prices have fallen for 11 consecutive months, but food was already expensive before the war due to drought from the Americas to the Middle East – the most devastating in the Horn of Africa, with thousands dead in Somalia. Poorer countries that rely on imported food priced in dollars spend more as their currencies weaken.
The agreements also faced setbacks as they were brokered by the UN and Turkey: Russia briefly backed out in November before rejoining and extending the deal. In recent months, inspections designed to ensure ships only carry grain and not weapons have been delayed.
This has contributed to backlogs in ships waiting in Turkey’s waters and a recent fall in the amount of grain leave Ukraine.
Ukrainian and some US officials have blamed Russia for the delays, which the country denies.
While fertilizers have stalled, Russia has been exporting huge amounts of wheat after a record harvest. Figures from financial data provider Refinitiv showed that Russian wheat exports more than doubled in January to 3.8 million tonnes from the same month a year ago, before the invasion.
According to Refinitiv, Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December and January, up 24% from the same three months a year earlier. It estimated that Russia would 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 AP’s full coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and the food crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/food-crisis.