Kuleba, foreign minister, speaks to African journalists
Affirms commitment to ties with African states
To boost trade with African countries
To build bonds, partnerships, foster digitalised economy for Africa
Offers to bring its technologies to Africa
The ongoing geopolitical crisis in Europe has resulted in supply disruptions of various commodities, exacerbated inflation on a global scale, and resulted in multi-year high valuations of goods in the global market at a period the global community is beginning to recover from the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The war, which began on February 24 when Russia launched its first of many attacks on Ukraine, has exposed the vulnerability of global supply chains and raised the spectre of food shortages in many countries, especially those dependent on Ukraine and Russia for imports of key staples.
In Africa, the impact of the crisis on food security has accelerated into a worrisome challenge, triggered by price shocks and disruptions in the supply chain of the food commodity, as the world’s second most populous continent is heavily reliant on food imports from both countries.
As part of efforts to address this challenge, Dymytro Kuleba, foreign minister of Ukraine, has urged all African states to work together and pressure Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine has led to a naval blockade of the country’s food exports, to allow a safe sea route for food exports.
“African states have a crucial role in this, and many already work together with us to achieve it. African capitals matter, and they do influence Russia’s position,” Kuleba said.
“Ukraine will continue working closely with all African nations in the coming days and weeks to ensure that all of our contracted goods reach your markets, and to overcome the global food crisis provoked by Russia’s irresponsible actions,” he said.
Kuleba spoke via a Zoom press briefing put together by the Africa Regional Media Hub, a unit of the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Public Affairs. The briefing offered journalists across the continent the opportunity to speak directly with the Ukrainian foreign minister, who provided his firsthand perspective and knowledge of how Russia’s attack on Ukraine has contributed to challenges in global food security in Africa and on the ways to overcome food security challenges posed by the four-month old war.
Russia and Ukraine, aside from being the largest European countries by landmass, play an integral part in the global economy as both are big players in the global agricultural market space, exporting significant amounts of wheat, fertilisers, corn, edible oil, among others.
They are also major exporters of essential commodities, from crude oil to natural gas, base metals such as aluminium, nickels, among others.
Russia and Ukraine, referred to as the world’s breadbasket, account for over 25 percent of exported wheat in the global market. Ukraine accounted for 10 percent of global wheat exports in 2021, while Russia exported about 17 percent of the world’s total in the same period, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
Speaking during the press briefing, Kuleba affirmed his country’s longstanding commitment to developing ties with the African Union and African states as well as its willingness to deepen political and cultural ties, people-to-people contacts, and boost trade with African countries.
“For many years, Ukraine has been a reliable and trustworthy partner of African states, especially in agricultural trade. There have never – I emphasise never – been any major problems in delivering our high-quality food products to your nations,” Kuleba said.
“As a mighty agricultural nation, Ukraine has grown millions of tonnes of wheat, corn, sunflower, and other products, and happily delivered them to African markets. We have always been proud of our role as a food security guarantor,” he said.
Africa is one of Ukraine’s most dominant markets, accounting for a quarter of the Eastern European country’s exports. A little less than one-fifth of Ukrainian exports goes to Europe, and a quarter to Asia. Ukraine accounts for 44 percent of wheat imported to Libya, 42 percent for Tunisia, 26 percent for Egypt, 26 percent for Ethiopia, and 15 percent for Morocco. Egypt also relies on 26 percent of Ukrainian goods in its corn imports, Kuleba said.
However, Russia’s invasion has led to a naval blockade of Ukrainian food exports routes, affecting the global food system previously already weakened by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the course of the war, Russia deliberately targeted our agricultural infrastructure to inflict maximum damage on our food-producing capacity. By doing this, Moscow also deliberately inflicts damage on African states that rely on Ukrainian agricultural exports,” he said.
He noted that blocking Ukraine’s food exports longer would undermine the ability of farmers to proceed with the new harvest and elevate the risk of interrupting Ukraine’s agricultural cycle for another year, which will consequently put the world at risk of a multi-year food crisis.
According to the Ukraine foreign minister, prior to the war, Ukraine exported between 5 to 6 million tonnes of agricultural products on a monthly basis. Ninety percent of this volume, he said, was exported from seaports in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, but Russia has blocked 57 commercial vessels loaded with agricultural commodities in the Black Sea, leading to the delay or cessation of food exports stored in the ports.
The consequences are being felt all over as the FAO food price index soared to 157.4 points as of May 2022, from an all-time high of 140.7 points prior to the war due to rising prices for vegetable oils, dairy products and grains.
With traditional supply chains being broken, Kuleba said Ukraine’s focus now is to rely on roads, railways, and Danube riverport logistics, of which the country is currently working with a group of seven countries, including the U.S., the European Union, and neighbouring European states to rearrange supply chains for wheat, corn, soybean, rapeseed, barley, sunflower, sunflower oil, meal, pomace, and other goods.
On the progression made through the alternative routes, he said Ukraine was able to export approximately 1.1 million tonnes of grain, oil, and meal in April.
He said Ukraine has invested a lot of resources and both financial and intellectual resources in upgrading its agricultural sector to make it more technologically advanced through digitalisation.
He further expressed Ukraine’s commitment to build bonds and partnerships with Africa and foster a digitalised economy for Africa by bringing its technologies to African countries, so that the populace can benefit from it.
The Ukraine foreign minister urged Macky Sall, chairperson of the African Union, to help play a leading role in resolving the global food crisis by uniting efforts with other countries to speak in one voice with Russia to end its naval blockade and allow Ukrainian food exports to be resumed.