What?! Africa’s banking on extending the grain export plan from Ukraine and Russia? That’s both confusing and erratic news!

Tuesday May 16, 2023

The Ukraine-Russia grain deal is expiring in three days. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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Prepare for a perplexing turn of events as negotiations for the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) reopen. The agreement, which allows for grain and fertiliser to be transported from wartime Russia and Ukraine to Africa and other parts of the world, is set to expire in just three days. While there have been two windows for grain to move via the Black Sea since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2020, the initial 120-day cycle has given way to a 60-day cycle that is now coming to an end.

However, during the negotiations for the second round, Russia complained about the destination of grain, with only a measly 3% going to Africa. In response, Russia has threatened to send grain to Africa free of charge. This has been widely labelled as a geopolitical stunt and a source of confusion for many involved in the talks.

Since the BSGI’s initiation, the World Food Programme (WFP) has chartered vessels to transport roughly 600,000 tonnes of grain in support of its humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen. Despite these efforts, if no deal is reached by May 18, Russia has claimed it will withdraw from the initiative given the lack of consideration of its set conditions.

US ambassador Jim O’Brien has expressed his concern about such a move stating it would be an “outright selfish decision”. Despite the current sanctions in place, O’Brien claims Russia continues to export food and fertiliser at or above pre-war levels. Nonetheless, the danger remains that African buyers may have trouble sourcing affordable grain. As such, the US has even offered to help African buyers source grain from Russia.

Another complicated matter is the opening of the ammonia pipeline, allowing Russia to export fertiliser. Failure to secure this pipeline could lead to catastrophic crop losses, further compromising food sufficiency on the continent. Though negotiations involve Turkish, Russian, Ukrainian and UN delegations, the US believes Russia needs to make clear this matter’s importance for progress to be made.

“It takes two to say yes to anything, so I’d be hesitant to ascribe the difficulty here to just one of the parties,” O’Brien remarked. Nevertheless, there remains a desire to extend the corridor’s opening for another two months. Brace yourself for the final outcome set to be revealed on May 18.

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