Opinion |  On Inflation and the Food Crisis, the World Can Work Together or Fall Apart

Opinion | On Inflation and the Food Crisis, the World Can Work Together or Fall Apart

As is so often the case, it is the poorest countries that suffer the sharpest blow, and history shows that hunger can quickly turn lethal. Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Yemen are already feeling the pain of food shortages, The Washington Post notes; rising prices have set off protests in Argentina, Indonesia, Tunisia and Sri Lanka, among other countries.

The largest constraint to the export of Ukrainian grain is the country’s inability to use its primary Black Sea port, Odesa. Ukraine has instead tried to ship its grain by road, rail and river, but these methods fall far short of what would be exported through Ukrainian ports. Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine was exporting an average of 3.5 million tons of grain per month. That fell to 300,000 tons in March and went up to a little over one million tons in April.

Odesa could handle the volume, and it is still under Ukrainian control. The problem is the warships and mines blocking shipping. Russia has indicated that it is prepared to open a secure channel out of Odesa, but it would expect the lifting of some sanctions in exchange. The United States and its allies have resisted any sanctions; Ukrainians say Russia cannot be trusted.

Time is fast running out. The winter wheat is ripe, and about 25 million tons of grain, according to United Nations estimates, in Ukraine could rotate if it isn’t exported soon. Even an immediate agreement to clear the way to Odesa would require weeks to arrange a large flotilla willing to take the risk of entering a war zone and pay for the necessary insurance and escort. Using NATO ships could create the danger of a direct confrontation with Russian warships, which the Western allies have been intent on avoiding.

The UN Secretary general, António Guterres, has said that “there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets, despite the war.” He suggested, in effect, that the United States and Europe relax the existing sanctions on Russian and Belarusian agriculture exports in exchange for letting Ukrainian grain flow unimpeded to the world.

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