The ship bound for Lebanon brings hope, not a solution to the food crisis
BEIRUT (AP) — A ship bringing corn to Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli would normally cause no commotion. But it gets attention because of its origin: the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa.
Razoni, loaded with more than 26,000 tonnes of corn for chicken feed, emerges from the fringes of a Russian war that has threatened food supplies in countries like Lebanon, which has the world’s highest rate of food inflation – a staggering 122% – and depends on the Black Sea region for almost all of its grain.
The fighting has trapped 20 million tons of grain inside Ukraine and the departure of the Razoni Monday marked a first major step toward extracting those food supplies and transporting them to farms and bakeries to feed millions of poor, hungry people in Africathe Middle East and parts of Asia.
“Actually, seeing mission movement is a big deal,” said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. “That 26,000 tonnes on the scale of 20 million tonnes that are locked up is nothing, absolutely nothing … but if we start to see that, every shipment that goes in will increase confidence.”
The small scale means that initial missions leave the world’s breadbasket it won’t reduce food prices or alleviate a global food crisis anytime soon. In addition, most of the trapped grain is intended for animal feed, not for human consumption, experts say. This will extend the ripple effects of war on the world’s most vulnerable people thousands of miles away in countries like Somalia and Afghanistan, where hunger could soon turn to famine and where inflation has driven up food and energy costs out of reach for many.
To the farmers in Lebanonthe shipment expected this weekend is a sign that grain may become more available again, even at a higher price, said Ibrahim Tarchichi, head of the Bekaa Farmers Union.
But he said it would not strike a blow in his country, where years of endemic corruption and political strife have turned life upside down. Since 2019, the economy has shrunk by at least 58%, with the currency so severely devalued 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 falls,” Tarchichi said.
The controversy came to a head this week when a section of Beirut port’s massive grain silos collapsed in a huge cloud of dust, two years after a massive explosion killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more.
Although symbolic, the shipments have done little to assuage market concerns. Drought and high fertilizer costs have kept grain prices more than 50% higher than in early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic. And while Ukraine is a leading supplier of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil to developing countries, it accounts for just 10% of international wheat trade.
There is also little evidence to suggest that the world’s poorest who rely on Ukrainian wheat distributed through UN agencies such as the World Food Program will be able to access it soon. Before the war, half of the grain the World Food Program bought for distribution came from Ukraine.
Razoni’s safe passage was guaranteed by a four-month deal brokered by the UN and Turkey with Ukraine and Russia two weeks ago. The grain corridor that runs through the Black Sea is 111 nautical miles long and 3 nautical miles wide, with the waters littered with drifting explosive mines, slowing operations.
Three more ships departed on Friday, bound for Turkey, Ireland and the United Kingdom. All the ships that have departed so far have been stuck there since the war began almost six months ago.
Under the agreement, some – but not all – of the food exported will go to countries facing food insecurity. That means it could take weeks for people in Africa to see grain from the new shipments and even longer to see the impact on high food prices, said Shaun Ferris, a Kenya-based consultant on agriculture and markets. of Catholic Relief Services, partner in World Food Program Distributions.
In East Africa, thousands of people have died as Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya face their worst drought in four decades. Survivors described burying their children as they fled to camps where little aid was available.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Somalia and other African countries turned to non-traditional grain partners such as India, Turkey and Brazil, but at higher prices. Crucial food prices could start to ease in two or three months as imported food markets adjust and local harvests progress, Ferris said.
The decision about who is first in line for grain from Ukraine could be influenced by humanitarian needs, but could also depend on existing business arrangements and commercial interests, including who is willing to pay the most, Ferris said.
“Ukraine is not a charity,” he said. It will “seek to achieve the best deals in the market” to preserve its own fragile economy.
The WFP said this week it plans to buy, load and ship 30,000 tonnes of wheat from Ukraine on a ship chartered by the UN. He did not say where the ship would go or when that trip might take place.
In Lebanon, where Mercy Corps says the price of wheat flour has risen more than 200 percent since the start of the war in Russia, people have stood in long, often tense lines outside bakeries for subsidized bread in recent days.
The government flashed a $150 million World Bank loan to import wheat, a temporary six-to-nine-month fix before it is forced to remove bread subsidies altogether.
While the situation is difficult for millions of Lebanese, the country’s approximately 1 million Syrian refugees who fled the civil war across the border face stigma and discrimination trying to buy bread.
A Syrian living in northern Lebanon said it often takes him three to four visits to bakeries before he finds someone willing to sell him bread, with priority given to the Lebanese. He described lines of 100 people waiting and only a handful were allowed every half hour to buy a small bundle of loaves.
“We get all kinds of rude comments because we’re Syrian, which we usually just ignore, but sometimes it gets too much and we decide to go home empty-handed,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya.
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