The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) convened a high-level meeting Thursday, chaired by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to address global food security concerns, as the United States assumes the UNSC presidency for the month of August.
During a Tuesday briefing, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, "Where there is conflict, there is hunger," emphasizing the impact of the war in Ukraine on global food security.
Thomas-Greenfield also said Blinken will present the council with a draft communique on the subject. Over 75 countries have signed the communique so far, committing to "take action to end the use of food as a weapon of war and to cease the starvation of civilians as a tactic of warfare."
In July, Russia withdrew from a crucial grain deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations. The agreement had been enabling shipments of grains to bypass a Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea since July 2022.
Ukrainian and US officials, as well as others from the European Union, have accused Russia of "weaponizing food" in its war of aggression against Ukraine.
The end of Black Sea grain deal and a looming food crisis
The collapse of the grain deal poses a serious threat to the food security of many lower-income countries already grappling with hunger and economic crises.
Ukraine is one of the world's top producers of wheat and corn, accounting for approximately 10% of the world's wheat and 15% of its corn. Many countries in Africa and the Middle East have relied on lower-priced Ukrainian grains for years.
Data released by the UN's Joint Coordination Center shows that, under the grain deal, developing countries received 57% of the foodstuffs exported from Ukraine over the past year, while developed countries received 43%. Among the largest recipients were China, Spain, Turkey and Italy.
The flow of foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports had a positive impact on the global markets. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 33 million tons of grain were exported from Ukraine thanks to the deal, leading to a roughly 20% decrease in world food prices.
Russia attacking Ukrainian grain facilities
Since leaving the grain deal, Russia has escalated its missile attacks on silos and loading equipment at Ukrainian Black Sea ports, effectively blocking maritime grain shipments.
In response, Ukraine has been forced to reroute its grain exports through its ports along the Danube River, shipping them to Europe through neighboring Romania. However, Russia has further targeted Ukraine's access to the river, which had served as the primary alternative route for grain exports out of the country.
On Wednesday, Russian drone attacks hit the Ukrainian port city of Izmail on the Danube, damaging port infrastructure.
Grain exports: What is Ukraine's plan B?
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Along with the Black Sea grain deal came a three-year agreement between the UN and Russia designed to streamline Moscow's food and fertilizer exports despite Western sanctions on the Russian Economy. But Russia has long complained that restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance amounted to a barrier on shipments.
Efforts by UN officials to revive the grain deal have so far been unsuccessful.
However, in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow was ready to return to the Black Sea grain deal as soon as the West met its obligations regarding Russia's own grain and fertilizer exports.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield confirmed Washington had seen indications that Russia might be interested in talks. "What we have been told is that they are prepared to return to discussions," she said. "We haven't seen any evidence of that yet."
Other factors fueling global food crisis
The war in Ukraine and the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal are just two among several factors contributing to a long-standing global food crisis.
Alarmed by rising prices and growing demand, other countries producing large amounts of staple food items have restricted their exports.
On July 20, India, the world's top rice exporter, banned exports of non-basmati white rice to combat rising prices at home.
Extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, drought and floods have also adversely affected harvests.
The return of El Nino, a natural climate phenomenon, has caused floods, drought and storms in numerous regions, disrupting agriculture and fishing sectors, and exacerbating food cost inflation.
Last year's devastating floods in Pakistan, for instance, washed away nearly half the country's crops, while record-breaking heatwaves in southern Europe severely damaged summer crops and dairy products.
Last month, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published its annual report on food security, revealing that the world continues to grapple with the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting supply-chain disruptions.
According to the FAO's estimates, about 700 million people faced hunger in 2022, an increase of 122 million compared to 2019 pre-pandemic levels; with Africa, the Caribbean, and Western Asia experiencing the most alarming increases in hunger levels for the year.