German agri minister wants to help export-blocked Ukrainian grain

Ukraine is a major grain exporter, with the bulk of the country's wheat normally being exported by sea. Before the war, about five million tons of grain were exported monthly via the country's ports, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Ukraine needs logistical support for the export of crucial agricultural products currently impacted by Russia’s aggression, German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, who wants to mobilise fellow G7 countries to help Ukraine, has said. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The Green minister plans to discuss further securing Ukraine’s access to global cultural markets at the G7 agriculture meeting set for mid-May, he told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland newspaper on Monday (2 May). His comments come after Russia destroyed and blocked several of Ukraine’s ports along the Black Sea.

“We, as the German government, will do all we can,” Özdemir said.

Ukraine is a major exporter of grain and most of its wheat is typically exported by sea. Ukraine exported about five million tons of grain via the country’s ports each month before Russia’s war in the country, the agriculture ministry has said.

Alternative transport routes must thus be opened up, the agriculture minister said. Transport by rail, for example, “could be a solution to export grain – albeit with a lot of effort and with limited capacity,” Özdemir added.

Rail transport is also problematic due to differing track gauges among countries and the shortage of usable containers. Russia has also recently increased the bombing of rail facilities, the agriculture minister added.

Exports via rail and inland waterways

Grain export is one of the main issues Ukraine’s agriculture ministry is currently dealing with,  its Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky told Ukrainian media in a recent interview. The ports in Odesa and Mykolaiv, for instance, are currently paralysed “for obvious reasons.”

Getting agricultural commodities out of the country by sea is currently “impossible in principle,” Mariya Yaroshko, the project manager of the German-Ukrainian Agricultural Policy Dialogue (APD) in Kyiv – a cooperation project supported by the ministries of both countries – told EURACTIV Germany.

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“Now we have to shift our focus and that is indeed mainly on train transports,” she said. However, the country’s infrastructure has not yet been developed enough to be able to deal with the required export volume, she added.

“Currently, we are at maybe 15% of the capacity we would need there,” Yaroshko said.

Ukraine is also attempting to use inland waterways to transport products along the Danube to Western countries, from where they can be shipped elsewhere in the world, she added. This is cheaper and faster than exporting by train, she said, but again, there is a lack of readily available suitable vessels.

Despite all efforts to increase exports by rail, road and inland waterways, export capacities are currently insufficient, minister Solsky said.

For example, only 200,000 tonnes of wheat could be exported from Ukraine in March, while the country’s current export-bound stocks amount to 20 million tonnes of wheat from the last harvest, despite the difficult production conditions, the Ukrainian minister explained.

Yaroshko said that while Ukraine was mostly concerned with ensuring domestic supply right after the war broke out, as it temporarily halted its wheat exports, the country now has a better overview of its current level of supply and has come to the conclusion “that we do indeed still have a surplus.”

Key revenue sources collapse

“And these surpluses can of course be exported, because we also understand Ukraine’s responsibility, especially as far as countries that have counted on our exports are concerned,” Yaroshko added.

Production and export disruptions caused by Russia’s invasion had recently driven up food prices worldwide, heavily impacting import-dependent countries – especially in Asia and Africa.

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At the same time, however, exports are key to Ukraine’s war-torn economy. “For Ukraine, agricultural exports are one of the main sources of income and also one of the main ways to get hold of foreign currency,” Yaroshko said.

According to the agriculture ministry in Kyiv, agricultural products account for 40% of the country’s total export revenue.

Food exports, along with ensuring food security at home, are currently some of the country’s key agricultural policies, Mykola Pugachov, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Economics, recently told a public conference.

“Exports, in turn, have an impact on agricultural markets themselves, because they bring the financial resources to finance sowing and harvesting to keep farms going,” he explained.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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