German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the G7 industrialized nations were urgently looking for alternative ways to export Ukrainian grain as Russia’s war with its western neighbors increased the risk of a global “starvation crisis”.
About 25 million tons of grain — “the world’s much-needed food” — is stranded in Ukrainian ports blocked by Russian troops, Berbok said at the end of a three-day meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Germany.
“Every ton of food we can put out will help fight this hunger crisis,” she said. “In the circumstances we’re in, every week counts.”
Wheat prices have been surging in recent weeks amid supply concerns stemming from the war in Ukraine and some droughts around the world.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that global supplies for the next crop year will fall for the first time in four years.
Supply concerns deepened on Saturday when India announced a ban on wheat exports, a move that could push up food prices and exacerbate hunger in poor countries that depend on India’s food imports.
The New Delhi government said the ban was aimed at “managing the country’s overall food security”.
Food was one of the key issues for G7 ministers’ deliberations over the weekend. Their final communiqué said Russia’s war “provided one of the worst food and energy crises in recent history and now threatens the world’s most vulnerable”.
It said the G7 was “determined to accelerate a coordinated multilateral response to safeguard global food security and to support our most vulnerable partners in this regard”.
Belbok said the easiest way to resolve the food crisis would be for Russia to halt combat operations and allow grain to be shipped out of Ukrainian ports, a move that would help “normalize global food prices.” But she said Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no willingness to do so.
Instead, Western governments are looking for alternatives to sea routes. Typically around 5-6 million tonnes of grain is exported through Ukrainian ports a month, and the G7 is “analysing different rail routes so we can get grain out as quickly as possible,” she said.
So far, Ukrainians have only succeeded in transporting “a fraction” of the grain they harvest through Romania by rail, she said. “But the bottleneck there is because Ukraine has a different gauge [to Romania],” she said. “The same goes for other connections, such as the one with Poland – where lorries can’t just pass through. “
G7 ministers have also discussed using Baltic ports to export food, she said. “But you have to reach them first”. “As long as there is a solution to the problem, there is no perfect solution [Russian] The bombing continues,” she said.
In a communiqué, G7 ministers expressed “deep concern” over the worsening global food insecurity and malnutrition, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“Food prices and the cost of humanitarian agencies delivering aid to those most in need are rising at a time when 45 million people are one step away from famine,” it said.
The G7 foreign ministers also said the West is prepared to continue to help Ukrainian troops against Russia for years to come. “We will continue to provide Ukraine with military and defense assistance for as long as necessary,” the ministers said.
But Belbok was cool with a proposal made by her Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmitro Kouleba, and backed this week by the EU’s top foreign policy representative, Joseph Borrel, to use Russia’s confiscated Russians by Western governments. The assets finance the reconstruction of Ukraine. “It’s never easy, legally speaking, to seize frozen money,” Belbok said. “Such steps must be able to pass . . . before the European Court of Justice.”