Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative sets off food crisis alarm in East Africa

  • 7 Aug 2023
  • 2 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Naisiae Simiren

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently pulled out of a renewal agreement deal entered into on 22nd July 2022. The deal, witnessed by UN President António  Guterres, is between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey on the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI). The deal enabled Ukraine to resume shipping grain stuck in the country with an assurance that no ships will be attacked en route through the Turkey strait, Bosporus. The deal has had two short-term extensions, one in November 2022 and the other in March 2023. In both instances, Russia severally threatened to pull out because their specified conditions were not being met. The withdrawal frustrates implementation of the agreement as there is no assurance that the ships leaving Ukraine will not be attacked.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of grain such as maize and wheat, whereas Russia is a key exporter of fertiliser. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine halted the export of grain leading to food disruption shock waves across the globe and more specifically developing countries. Not only was there food disruption but food prices skyrocketed, a situation which was further aggravated by the dollar depreciation. The BSGI deal saw over 37 countries benefit from food imports from the two countries. This follows over 32 million tons of grain being exported out of Ukraine under the BSGI. Some of the beneficiary countries include Kenya, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia.  The BSGI deal led to the lowering of fertiliser and food prices in these countries albeit not to pre-invasion levels.

President Putin recently withdrew from the deal claiming that certain critical conditions had not been met. One of the conditions demanded by Russia is the reconnection of Russia’s Agricultural Bank with SWIFT after the European Union cut it off. This demand has been supported by China. Another demand by Russia is that there has been no effort to improve its own grain and fertiliser exports which they have argued that the grain exports have so far not benefitted the needy countries.

Withdrawal from the deal by Russia sends a global food crisis alarm at a time when food production in Kenya and generally the world is not  performing well. This is because of the effects of climate change. This threatens to push the needy parts of the country into insecurity particularly as food donations relied on exported grains through the BSGI. The number of undernourished children is expected to rise as donors such as World Food Programme consider other interim options which further increase vulnerability risks of the needy population. The food aid agencies will now have to spend more and prioritize who benefits from their food aid programmes. The cost of inputs for agricultural food production such as fertiliser is also expected to spike because of Russia’s decision to withdraw.

The European Council and other countries have called on Russia to renew the agreement as they equate Russia’s actions to food weaponization. Kenya and other East African countries dependent on the renewal and implementation of the BSGI deal should brace themselves for tough times ahead if Russia does not acquiesce to the international pressure to renew the BSGI agreement.