The European Commission has proposed helping Ukraine export its wheat and other grains by rail, road, and river to get around the Russian blockade of Black Sea ports, which is preventing critical supplies from reaching parts of the world at risk of food insecurity.
The War in Ukraine Provokes Food Supply Disruptions
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked disruptions of global food supplies, with both countries being two of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat, barley, and sunflower oil. Around one third of the exports is destined to Europe, China, and Africa, respectively.
Under normal circumstances, 75% of Ukraine's grain production is exported, generating around 20% of national annual export revenues. Before the war, Ukrainian Black Sea ports accounted for 90% of its export of grain and oilseeds.
The potential loss of affordable grain supplies that Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia rely on has raised the risk of global food shortages and political instability in countries where many people already were not getting enough to eat.
The disruptions from the war have further raised food prices, with the high cost of fertilizers — of which Russia is a top exporter — and cooking oils further squeezing the global food chain.
EU Plans to Get Food Supplies to the World
The plan announced by the EU last May aims to establish alternative routes and ease border congestion, which should make it easier to get humanitarian aid and other goods into the war-torn country.
Europe is looking to increase railroad and truck shipments to get Ukraine's food supplies to the rest of the world. Trains have begun transporting grain loads to Austria and Germany via other EU countries, but they represent only a fraction of the Black Sea port capacity.
A key challenge is the diverging rail gauge widths between Ukraine and EU countries. Since Ukrainian railroad cars don’t fit with most of the EU network, goods need to be transferred to trucks or other rail cars adapted to the system; for this reason, the average wait time for the thousands of rail cars at at Ukraine’s border with the 27-nation bloc is 16 days, reaching up to 30 days in some places.
To address this congestion, the commission said the most urgent priority is to ensure additional transport vehicles are available to get the grain to EU ports. It said grain-hopper trailers, cargo containers, and barges and vessels “are urgently needed.”
The commission also urged member nations to accelerate procedures at border crossing points and increase capacity on EU soil for the temporary storage of Ukrainian exports.
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