BEIRUT – A ship bringing corn to the northern port of Tripoli in Lebanon would not normally cause a stir. But it gets attention because of where it comes from: the Black Sea port of Ukraine of Odesa.
The Razoni, loaded with more than 26,000 tons of corn for chicken feed, emerges from the edges of a Russian war that has threatened the food supply in countries such as Lebanon, which has the highest rate of food inflation in the world – a staggering 122% – and depends on the Black Sea region for almost all of its wheat.
The fighting has trapped 20 million tons of grain in Ukraine, and Razoni’s departure Monday marks a first major step toward extracting that food supply and getting it to farms and bakeries to feed millions of poor people living in Africa. , starving the Middle East. and parts of Asia.
“Actually, the shipping movement is a big deal to see,” said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. “This 26,000 tons in the scale of the 20 million tons that are locked up is nothing, absolutely nothing … but if we start to see that, every shipment that goes will increase confidence.”
The small scale means that the initial shipments leaving the world’s breadbasket will not drive down food prices or alleviate a global food crisis as soon as possible. Plus, most of the captured grain is for animal feed, not for people to eat, experts say. That will extend the ripple effects of war to the world’s most vulnerable people thousands of miles away in countries like Somalia and Afghanistan, where hunger could quickly turn to famine and where inflation is driving up the cost of food and energy for pushed much out of reach.
For farmers in Lebanon, the shipment expected this weekend is a sign that grains may become more available again, albeit at a higher price, said Ibrahim Tarchichi, head of the Bekaa Farmers Association.
But he said it won’t make a dent in his country, where years of endemic corruption and political divisions have cost lives. As of 2019, the economy has shrunk by at least 58%, with the currency depreciated so much that nearly three-quarters of the population now live in poverty.
“I think the crisis will continue as long as operating costs continue to rise and purchasing power falls,” Tarchichi said.
The dispute was on sharp display this week when a section of Beirut’s massive port grain silos collapsed in a huge cloud of dust, two years after an explosion killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more.
While symbolic, the deliveries did little to ease 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 top supplier of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil to developing countries, it represents just 10% of international wheat trade.
There is also little to suggest that the world’s poorest who rely on Ukrainian wheat distributed through U.N. Agencies such as the World Food Program, are able to access at any time. Before the war, half of the grain that WFP bought for distribution came from Ukraine.
Razoni’s safe passage was guaranteed by a four-month deal that the UN and Turkey brokered with Ukraine and Russia two weeks ago. The corridor through the Black Sea is 111 nautical miles long and 3 nautical miles wide, with water filled with floating explosive mines that slow down the work.
Three more ships left on Friday, bound for Turkey, Ireland and Great Britain. All the ships that have left so far have been stuck there since the war started almost six months ago.
Under the deal, some – not all – of the food will be exported to countries experiencing 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 effects on high food prices, said Shaun Ferris, a Kenya-based agriculture and markets consultant for Catholic Relief Services, a partner in World Food Program distributions.
In East Africa, thousands of people have died as Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya face the worst drought in four decades. Survivors described burying their children as they fled to the camp, where little help was found.
After Russia attacked Ukraine, Somalia and other African countries turned to non-traditional grain partners such as India, Turkey and Brazil, but at higher prices. Prices of critical food items could drop in two or three months as markets for imported food adjust and local harvests progress, Ferris said.
Who is first in line for grain from Ukraine could be influenced by humanitarian needs, but also comes down to existing business arrangements and commercial interests, including who is most willing to pay, Ferris said.
“Ukraine is not a charity,” he said. “It will look to get the best deals in the market” to shore up its own fragile economy.
WFP said this week it plans to buy, load and ship 30,000 tons of wheat from Ukraine on a U.N.-chartered vessel. It did not say where the ship would go or when that trip might happen.
In Lebanon, where the humanitarian aid group Mercy Corps says the price of wheat flour has risen more than 200% since the start of the Russian war, people have been standing in long, often tense lines outside bakeries in recent days for subsidized bread.
The government green-lighted a $150 million World Bank loan to import wheat, a temporary solution of six to nine months before it could be forced to lift subsidies on bread altogether.
While the situation is difficult for millions of Lebanese, the country’s approximately 1 million Syrian refugees who have fled a civil war across the border face stigmatization and discrimination to buy bread.
A Syrian who lives in northern Lebanon said that it often takes him three to four visits to bakeries before he finds someone willing to sell him bread, with priority for Lebanon. He describes lines of 100 people waiting and only a handful are allowed to buy a small bundle of bread every half hour.
“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 reprisal.
Batrawy reports from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine