Ships bound for Lebanon offer hope, not a solution to food crisis

BEIRUT (AP) — A ship carrying corn to the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli usually doesn’t make a splash. But it got attention because it came from the Black Sea port of Odessa in Ukraine.

Razoni, loaded with more than 26,000 tons of corn for chicken feed, is emerging from the brink of a Russian war threatening food supplies In a country like Lebanon, it has one of the highest food inflation in the world — at 122 percent — and it depends on the Black Sea region for almost all of its wheat.

Fighting has trapped 20 million tons of grain in Ukraine, departure of Lazonis Monday marked an important first step towards extracting these food supplies and delivering them to farms and bakeries to feed millions of hungry and impoverished people in Africa.the Middle East and parts of Asia.

“It’s actually a big deal to see a change in shipments,” said Jonathan Haynes, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. “That 26,000 tons is nothing out of the 20 million tons that are locked in. Absolutely nothing…but if we start to see this, every shipment will increase confidence.”

Small scale means initial shipments leave the breadbasket of the world It will not depress food prices or ease the global food crisis in the short term. Plus, experts say most of the trapped grain is used as animal feed, not for human consumption. That would widen the knock-on effects of the war on the most vulnerable people in countries thousands of miles away, such as Somalia and Afghanistan, where hunger could quickly turn into famine and inflation has kept food and energy costs out of reach for many.

To Lebanese farmersExpected shipments this weekend suggest that grain may become more readily available again, even if prices are higher, said Ibrahim Tachic, head of the Bekaa Farmers Association.

But he said it would have no impact on his country, where years of endemic corruption and political divisions have upended people’s lives. The economy has contracted by at least 58% since 2019, and the currency has depreciated so much that half of the population now lives in poverty.

“I think as long as operating costs continue to soar and purchasing power declines, the crisis will continue,” Tacic said.

This week, the conflict was sharply brought to light two years after a massive explosion killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more when part of Beirut’s large port granary collapsed in a cloud of dust.

Although symbolic, these shipments did little to ease market concerns. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, drought and high fertilizer costs kept grain prices more than 50% higher than at the start of 2020. Although Ukraine is a major supplier of wheat, barley, maize and sunflower oil to developing countries, it accounts for only 10 percent of international wheat trade.

There is also little indication that the world’s poorest people who rely on Ukrainian wheat distributed through UN agencies such as the World Food Programme will be able to access them anytime soon.Before the war, the WFP bought half of the food for distribution from Ukraine.

Two weeks ago, the United Nations and Turkey reached a four-month deal with Ukraine and Russia guaranteeing the safe passage of Razoni. The grain corridor through the Black Sea is 111 nautical miles long and 3 nautical miles wide, and the waters are littered with floating explosive mines, slowing work.

Three more ships left on Friday, heading for Turkey, Ireland and the UK. All the ships that have left so far have been stuck there since the war began nearly six months ago.

Under the agreement, some, but not all, of the grain exported will go to food-insecure countries. That means it could be weeks before people in Africa see new shipments of grain, or even longer, to see the impact on high food prices, said Shaun Ferris, an agriculture and markets consultant for Catholic Relief Services in Kenya. Ferris, a partner in Catholic Relief Services. Distributed by the World Food Programme.

In East Africa, thousands of people have lost their lives as Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya face their worst drought in 40 years. Survivors described burying their children as they fled to camps with little help.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Somalia and other African countries turned to non-traditional food partners such as India, Turkey and Brazil, but at higher prices. Ferris said prices for key food items could start to fall within two to three months as the market for imported food adjusts and local harvests progress.

Ferris said the decision to buy food from Ukraine first could be influenced by humanitarian needs, but could also depend on existing commercial arrangements and commercial interests, including who is willing to pay the most.

“Ukraine is not a charity,” he said. “It will seek to get the best prices on the market” to maintain its fragile economy.

The World Food Program said this week that it plans to use a UN-chartered vessel to buy, load and transport 30,000 tonnes of wheat from Ukraine. It did not say where the ship was going or when the voyage might take place.

In Lebanon, Mercy Corps said the price of wheat flour has risen more than 200 percent since the start of the Russian war, and in recent days long, often tense queues have formed outside bakeries for subsidized bread.

The government approved a $150 million World Bank loan to import wheat, a temporary solution that will take six to nine months before being forced to completely remove subsidies for bread.

While millions of Lebanese are struggling, the country’s roughly 1 million Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war on the border face stigma and discrimination when they try to buy bread.

A Syrian who lives in northern Lebanon said he often went to the bakery three or four times to find someone willing to sell bread, prioritizing the Lebanese. He described 100 people waiting in line and only a few people allowed to buy a small packet of bread every half hour.

“We get all sorts of rude comments that we usually ignore because we are Syrian, but sometimes there are so many that we decide to go home empty-handed,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.


Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya.


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