Geneva — An end to the Black Sea grains deal would hit the Horn of Africa hard, aid officials said on Monday, warning that another hike in food prices would add to the tens of millions of people facing hunger.
Moscow has been threatening to walk away from the deal known as the Black Sea grain initiative — brokered by the UN and Turkey in July 2022 — if obstacles to its own grain and fertiliser shipments are not removed. A Ukrainian envoy has said he was 99.9% certain Russia would quit when it comes up for renewal on July 18.
Famine in parts of the Horn of Africa was averted in 2023 as the rainy season, projected to fail for a fifth consecutive year, beat expectations. But aid officials say 60-million people are still food insecure in seven east African countries and worry about the effect of a further blow.
“A non-renewal of the Black Sea initiative would absolutely hit eastern Africa very, very hard,” Dominique Ferretti, World Food Programme (WFP) senior emergency officer, told a Geneva briefing. “There’s a number of countries that depend on Ukraine’s wheat and without it we would see significantly higher food prices.”
The WFP is seeking to preposition as much food as possible and would be compelled to try to switch suppliers if the deal were scrapped, Ferretti added.
Brenda Lazarus from the Food and Agriculture Organisation said that diets in Somalia, Sudan Djibouti and Eritrea were focused on wheat and any change would be “very slow”.
UN data shows that about 700,000 tonnes have been shipped to Kenya and Ethiopia since the Black Sea deal began. While that is only about 2% of the total volume, the region has also been hit by the surge in wheat prices since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, though prices have since retreated.
A World Health Organisation official said 10.4-million children faced acute malnutrition and reported the highest admittance levels to medical facilities in the past three years in Somalia, South Sudan and parts of Kenya.