Explainer: Why the Black Sea Grain Deal Is Vital for Global Food Security

A landmark deal to allow grain exports from Ukraine, which was back on track Wednesday after being briefly suspended, has played a crucial role in easing a global food crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Brokered by the United Nations and Turkey and signed by Moscow and Kyiv on July 22, the agreement established a protected sea corridor to allow grain shipments to resume for the first time since the fighting began in February

Here is what we know about the deal, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative:

Why was it needed?

When Russian troops attacked in late February, Moscow imposed a blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, halting all agricultural exports from one of the world’s breadbaskets.

The move left 20 million metric tons of grain stranded in Ukraine’s ports, causing food prices to surge worldwide.

Before the war, up to 90% of Ukraine’s wheat, corn and sunflower exports were transported by sea, mostly from Odesa, with many developing countries relying heavily on Kyiv for grain.

Agricultural commodity prices were high before the war because of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, but the conflict pushed the price of grains such as wheat and corn to levels unsustainable for countries dependent on their import, such as Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia.

What does the deal cover?

The deal ensures the safe export of grain, foodstuffs and fertilizers, including ammonia, from three Black Sea ports in southwestern Ukraine: Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi.

The first grain ship to leave under the U.N.-backed deal set sail on August 1.

According to U.N. figures as of November 1, a total of 9.7 million metric tons of grain and other agricultural products have been transported in the first three months of the initiative, the vast majority involving wheat and corn.

Valid for 120 days, the agreement is up for renewal on November 19 in a process that can be done automatically without further negotiations.

The U.N. says extending the deal is crucial for global food security and is pushing for it to be renewed for one year.

Although the initiative is working well, shipments are about 40-50% lower than what they were before Russia’s invasion, the U.N. says.

How does it work?

According to the U.N.’s website, the agreement establishes a safe corridor between the three Ukrainian ports and an area in Turkish waters where the vessels are inspected before being allowed to continue their journey.

To monitor the agreement, a joint command and control center was set up in Istanbul to oversee smooth operations and resolve disputes.

Known as the Joint Coordination Center (JCC), the JCC has four teams of eight inspectors — two each from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N.

These teams inspect outbound vessels carrying grain at the Turkish inspection area to ensure all merchandise is approved.

The teams also examine empty ships returning to Ukraine to ensure they are not carrying any weapons or other unauthorized goods or people.

Safe passage

The deal establishes a buffer zone of 10 nautical miles around each vessel traveling along the corridor with no military ships, equipment or drones allowed within that radius.

All ship movements logged by the JCC are transmitted to the relevant military authorities to prevent any incidents, with any violations or threats to be handled by the JCC.

At the start of the war, Ukraine mined its main Black Sea ports to head off threats of a Russian attack from the sea, but experts said it would take too long to de-mine all these areas.

The deal allows Ukrainians to guide the ships along safe routes that avoid known mine fields and into and out of its territorial waters.

Deal briefly suspended

On October 29, Russia said it was suspending its participation in the deal, accusing Ukraine of using the shipping corridor to launch a drone attack on its Black Sea fleet in Crimea’s Sevastopol port.

After a call between the Russian and Turkish defense ministers, the deal resumed operation at 0900 GMT on November 2 with Moscow saying it had received written guarantees from Kyiv ensuring the corridor would not be used for attacking Russian forces.

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