Russia’s blockade of Ukraine will lead to worsening starvation, famine and instability around the world if it cannot be lifted, the World Food Programme has said.
The warning came as Sky News gained rare access to Odesa port on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
The port should be busy exporting tens of thousands of tonnes of grain but its huge grain elevators stand idle.
Sky was shown a huge grain cargo vessel loaded with 60,000 tonnes.
It should have sailed for Egypt in February but remains moored up thanks to Russia’s naval blockade.
Opposite the ship, 30 huge silos stand full of grain.
A quarter of a million tonnes has been sitting there for months with no means of getting it out to sea.
Matthew Hollingworth is World Food Programme emergency co-ordinator for Ukraine.
He says unless something gives the impact will be devastating around the world.
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“There’s no question it’s going to mean areas of starvation in the world are going to get worse. That famine will get worse.
“And we’re in a situation where the world’s economies are only partially getting better from COVID-19 and this situation is going to tip many countries over the edge.”
They call Ukraine the breadbasket of the world.
Its rich black earth is among the best soil in the world. Its fertility allows Ukraine to export 70% of its crops. Its harvest last year fed an extraordinary 400 million people.
Dutch farmer Kees Huizinga came here to Odesa to farm 20 years ago.
His farm is vast by British standards, stretching over 37,000 acres.
He has managed to export some of last year’s harvest overland by truck, but it’s a six-day wait at the border and will only shift a fraction of his grain.
If the naval blockade is not lifted he says, it will be disastrous for those who depend on him and millions around the world.
He said: “For us, for the company, it means bankruptcy and 400 employees without a job and me without a job and for the world it means a huge gap in the world food supply.
“I mean more than 70% of Ukrainian crops are meant for export and people who really need them in the poor countries, they won’t receive it, so they’re going to die.”
Even if the EU opened up its land borders to Ukrainian grain, two million tonnes at the most could be exported a month.
Between five and seven million tonnes needs to be getting out.
Ukraine says it needs NATO to take action to escort cargo ships through the blockade or be given weapons to let it attack Russia’s navy instead.
That would risk confrontation between NATO and Russia.
But the alternative could be global instability, civil unrest elsewhere, possibly revolution and war.
Western governments are wrestling with the problem but three months in they have not found a solution and time is running out.
Ukraine’s next harvest is in a month or two’s time. If Ukrainian farmers cannot sell their harvest by then, they will go bankrupt and will be unable to buy seed or fertiliser.
Then the world’s breadbasket will see its agricultural sector become a basket case with potentially disastrous consequences for hundreds of millions.