The United States Agency for International Development has warned Nigeria and other African countries to brace up for higher food prices, following recent developments that have temporarily halted Ukraine’s food exports to African countries.

USAID’s Deputy Administrator for Policy and Programming, Isobel Coleman, said this on Thursday at a virtual press conference.

According to her, Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative had already begun to trigger higher food prices around the world.

She noted the impact of this food price hike would be more felt in developing countries that were import-dependent, and had conventionally relied on grain imports from Ukraine.

Coleman said, “One of the world’s largest breadbaskets is Ukraine. By doing this, Russia is increasing food prices globally. We’ve already seen how global food prices came down over time after the Black Sea Grain Initiative came into place. Since Russia has pulled out of the agreement, food prices have again been on the rise.

“This affects every country around the world, but it affects, most acutely, large import-dependent developing countries that have to spend much of their precious foreign exchange resources to purchase food to feed their population.”

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was conceived to specifically allow for commercial food and fertiliser (including ammonia) exports from three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, which are Odessa, Chornomorsk, Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, led to a complete halt of maritime grain shipments from Ukraine, previously a major exporter via the Black Sea. Additionally, Russia temporarily halted its grain exports, further exacerbating the situation.

This resulted in a rise in world food prices and the threat of famine in lower-income countries such as Nigeria, and accusation that Russia was weaponising food supplies.

To address the issue, discussions began in April 2022, hosted by Turkey (which controls the maritime routes from the Black Sea) and supported by the UN. The resulting agreement was signed in Istanbul in July 22, valid for a period of 120 days.

With ratification of the initiative, food prices which had increased significantly, began to decrease. However, on July 17, 2023, the deal expired, and Russia refused to renew it on the ground that global sanctions were blocking its agricultural exports.

According to Coleman, Russia’s withdrawal from the initiative, which in principle, prevented Ukraine from exporting grain to Nigeria and other developing countries, would have dire consequences of food security in these countries.

Through the initiative, she said, Ukraine was able to export 33 million metric tonnes of food, 65 per cent of which went to developing countries, while 20 per cent went to the least developed countries.

According to a report by United Nations Comtrade, Nigeria imported about $500m worth of grain from Ukraine in 2021; showing the termination of the Black Sea Grain Initiative inevitably spelt higher food prices.

Russia, on its part, had promised to fill the space arising from Ukraine’s inability to export its grain, but USAID remained adamant that the Kremlin, which was trying to capitalise on a crisis it had engineered, was not equipped to fill this void, nor should it be allowed to.

Speaking further, Coleman said, USAID was already making plans to explore alternative means through which Ukraine could export its grain without the current hindrances surrounding the conventional maritime route (Black Sea).

She also noted that in the wake of the last food crisis which rocked global food security, the US government had made substantial investments via its ‘Feed The Future’ campaign, to make developing countries more resilient to food crises.

She added, “We have invested in more than 40 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Carribean. We have 20 target countries that have high levels of poverty and hunger and also a strong potential to drive economic growth and transform food systems.”

The Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, Elizabeth McKee, who also spoke, described the situation as dire, especially in light of Russia’s announcement that henceforth, any ship heading towards Ukrainian ports would be viewed as military targets.

According to her, in the last nine days, 26 port facilities and infrastructure had been hit by the Russians, while five civilian vessels had been targetted, and 180,000 tonnes of precious grain crops destroyed.

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