Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement released to the Guardian that up to 60 Ukrainian grain ships could be sent by the middle of next year to some of the world’s poorest countries in Africa.
In a move that challenges the Russian narrative that the West’s response to its war on Ukraine has exacerbated pre-existing food shortages in Africa, Zelensky said ships exiting the Ukrainian port of Odessa could reach humanitarian hotspots such as Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. But only as long as international funding to subsidize the grain progresses.
The scheme is organized by a mix of government entities, NGOs and private companies. The first three ships were due to leave Odessa for Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, although a German-funded ship had already departed for Ethiopia.
Zelensky said he was launching the program in memory of the Holodomor, when millions of Ukrainians died of starvation in a man-made famine in 1932-33. The program is backed by a new International Coordination Group for Hunger Prevention.
“Even as the country grapples with food shortages, devastated farmland, and widespread power outages, we will never forget our role as a responsible global citizen — especially after we have experienced famine as a nation,” Zelensky said in a statement. Africa is in dire need of food and Ukraine is ready. To support vulnerable groups in their time of need.”
Andriy Yermak, Chief of the President’s Office, said the launch marked an important historical moment not only for Ukraine but for all countries facing severe food shortages due to the ongoing conflict. Yermark called on the international community, including private foundations, to help fund the cost of sending food to countries ravaged by hunger.
Russia agreed to extend the grain deal in the Black Sea corridor last week for another 120 days. Since the deal was first launched — lifting the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea toward Turkey — a total of 11 million tons of Ukrainian agricultural products have reached 38 countries.
But some of the poorer countries are out of the market because of the high grain prices. The new mechanism is designed to ensure that market pressures that send grain to rich regions such as Europe are counteracted. The essence of the program, entitled “Grains from Ukraine”, is that the countries participating in the project buy agricultural products from Ukrainian producers – the priority is small and medium-sized enterprises – and transfer them to countries on the verge of starvation.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has already agreed to provide up to $20 million through the United Nations World Food Program. James Cleverly, the British foreign secretary, also announced additional funds for his visit to Ukraine on Thursday.
Egypt and Madagascar depend on Russia or Ukraine for more than 70-80% of their wheat, while Somalia imports more than 90% of its wheat needs. Eritrea imports 100% of its grain from Ukraine and Russia.