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Russia, Ukraine extend grain deal to help starving nations as global food prices soar

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — An unprecedented wartime deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices are pushing more people into poverty, has fallen short extended before its expiration date, officials said Saturday.

The United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the extension, but neither confirmed how long it would last. The United Nations, Turkey and Ukraine had pushed for 120 days, while Russia agreed to agree to 60 days.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted on Saturday that the deal would remain in effect for an extended period of four months. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russia’s Tass news agency that Moscow had “agreed to extend the deal by 60 days.”

This is the second extension of separate deals Ukraine and Russia signed with the United Nations and Turkey to allow food to leave the Black Sea region after Russia invaded its neighbor more than a year ago.

The warring nations are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable foods that developing countries depend on.

Russia has complained that supplies of its fertilizers – which its deal with Turkey and the United Nations was meant to facilitate – are not making it to world markets, which has been a problem for Moscow since the deal first came into effect in August. It was nevertheless extended by a further four months in November.

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that 25 million tonnes (about 28 million tonnes) of grain and food had been shipped to 45 countries under the initiative, which helped push global food prices up lower and stabilize markets.

“We remain strongly committed to both agreements and call on all sides to redouble their efforts to fully implement them,” Dujarric said.

The war in Ukraine sent food prices to record highs last year, contributing to a global food crisis also linked to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate factors such as drought.

The disruption to supplies of grains needed for staples in countries like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more into poverty or food insecurity. People in developing countries spend more money on basic necessities like groceries.

CONTINUE READING: Since the start of the war in Ukraine, inflation has pushed 71 million people into poverty

The crisis has left an estimated 345 million people food insecure, according to the United Nations World Food Program.

Food prices have fallen for 11 straight months, but food was already expensive before the war because of droughts from America to the Middle East – most devastating in the Horn of Africa, with thousands dying in Somalia. Poorer nations, dependent on imported food at dollar prices, spend more when their currencies weaken.

The deal also faced setbacks as it was brokered by the UN and Turkey: Russia briefly withdrew in November before rejoining and extending the deal. In recent months, inspections designed to ensure ships are only carrying grain and not weapons have slowed.

This has contributed to backlogs on ships waiting in Turkey’s waters and a recent drop in the amount of grain coming out of Ukraine.

Ukrainian and some US officials have blamed Russia for the slowdown, which the country denies.

While fertilizers have been stuck, Russia has exported huge quantities of wheat after a bumper crop. Figures from financial data provider Refinitiv showed that Russian wheat exports in January more than doubled from the same month before the invasion to 3.8 million tons.

According to Refinitiv, Russian wheat shipments in November, December and January were at or near record highs, up 24 percent from the same three months last year. It was estimated that Russia would export 44 million tons of wheat between 2022 and 2023.

Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Elise Morton in London and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.

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