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How does Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal with Ukraine threaten famine around the world?

LONDON, UK (CNN) — Russia’s decision to withdraw from an agreement guaranteeing safe passage for ships carrying vital grain exports from Ukraine has raised “concerns” about the potential threat to global food supplies at a time when the world is already facing a growing hunger crisis.

Global humanitarian organizations, the European Union, NATO and the United Nations have appealed to Moscow to reverse its decision, warning that any reduction in exports from Ukraine could have deadly consequences.

How does the grain deal work?

The agreement between Russia and Ukraine was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July.

Measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of ships carrying Ukrainian grain, fertilizer and other foodstuffs through a humanitarian corridor in the Black Sea. Under the agreement, all ships coming to and from the ports of Ukraine were examined and monitored by international teams made up of officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations.

After Russia announced its withdrawal from the agreement “for an indefinite period”, the remaining parties announced that they would continue with the program and would continue inspections without Russia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Ankara was determined to try to preserve the initiative. Russia and Ukraine produce a third of the world’s wheat production. “You are the closest witness to our efforts to deliver this wheat to countries facing the threat of starvation,” Erdogan said at a ceremony in Istanbul.

But the Kremlin warned against continuing the agreement. Asked whether it was possible to maintain grain shipments without Russia’s participation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that without Russia’s guarantee of the safety of navigation such an agreement would be “not possible.”

what is happening now?

Despite Russia’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, Kyiv said 12 ships had managed to leave Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea as of Monday morning.

This included the Ikaria Angel, a ship chartered by the World Food Program carrying 30,000 tons of wheat bound for Africa, which is currently experiencing a major food crisis.

Monday’s ship movements suggest that while Russia has said it is withdrawing from the deal, it has – so far – stopped short of re-imposing a complete blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

The United Nations said on Sunday that a plan had been drawn up to allow 16 ships to move on Monday – 12 from Ukrainian ports and four in the other direction. It added that there are 21 ships in or near Ukrainian ports with a capacity of more than 700,000 metric tons that were affected by the announcement.

However, Ukrainian officials have warned that dozens of ships may be prevented from moving.

What is the significance of the grain shipping agreement?

Ukraine plays a major role in the world food market. According to the United Nations, Ukraine normally supplies the world with about 45 million tons of grain each year. It is among the world’s top five exporters of barley, corn and wheat. It is also the largest exporter of sunflower oil, accounting for 46% of the world’s exports.

Typically, Ukraine exports about three-quarters of the grain it produces. About 90% of these exports were previously shipped by sea from Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea, according to European Commission data.

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February, it effectively blockaded ships leaving Ukraine’s ports. The impact of the war on world food markets was imminent and very painful, especially since Ukraine is a major supplier of grain to the World Food Program. The Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations body, said up to 47 million people could be pushed into “acute food insecurity” due to the war.

The Black Sea deal provides a significant amount of relief to those in need. The United Nations estimates that the reduction in staple food prices as a result of the agreement may indirectly prevent some 100 million people from falling into extreme poverty.

It added that as of Monday, more than 9.5 million tons of foodstuffs had been exported under the deal since it came into force in the summer.

The collapse of the deal “would hit those on the brink of starvation the most,” said Shashwat Sarraf, the IRC’s emergency director for East Africa.

“The renewed blockade raises significant concerns about the growing global hunger crisis, particularly in East Africa where more than 20 million people are hungry, or in places like Yemen that depend on Russia and Ukraine for nearly half of their wheat imports and where there are more than 19 million. People need food aid.”

“Any attempt to undermine the Convention is an attack on the hungry families around the world whose lives and livelihoods depend on this initiative,” USAID Administrator Samantha Power said on Sunday.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties to renew the grain deal, saying: “If food and fertilizer do not reach global markets now, farmers will not have the fertilizer on time and at a price they can afford. With the onset of the growing season, endangering crops in all regions of the world in 2023 and 2024, with a major impact on food production and food prices worldwide. The current crisis of affordability will turn into a crisis of non-availability of goods.”

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