Our correspondent Andrew Harding has been visiting frontline farms near the heavily bombarded city of Slovyansk. It’s harvest time in Ukraine’s war-torn Donbas. From his perch, Vladia Bukhansev can see the front lines just one hillside away to the north. There are traces of smoke on the horizon, and then these two Ukrainian fighter jets roar overhead to attack Russian positions.
You can see a Russian rocket blazing upwards, narrowly missing one jet. The planes both launch decoy flares and turn sharply, heading south. [Applause] The pilots do their job, we do ours. My son is fighting on the front line near here too.
Farmers and fighters, almost everyone else has left or is leaving this region, hurried farewells at a bus stop to the sound of Russian rockets landing nearby, and plenty of those rockets and cluster bombs are hitting Ukraine’s wheat fields, setting fire to thousands of acres.
It’s another challenge for the farmers and for a world that is increasingly desperate for Ukraine’s crops. The farm owner, Sergey Korini, takes me on a tour of his bomb craters. He used to sell almost all his wheat and sunflower seeds for export, but the war has put a stop to that.
He shows me more footage of the damage to his farm. This is where the cows were killed by another bomb, and in fact, we can just hear a few more in the distance. It’s quite a noisy morning here, but the biggest problem, Sergey tells me, is the Russian blockade. The ports are closed, he says, so we can’t export anything, and so the price we get for our wheat has dropped by two-thirds.
A deal to end Russia’s blockade could make a huge difference, but it won’t end the war, and so here in the Donbas, Ukrainian farmers are racing to harvest and store what they can, whatever the risks. Andrew Harding of BBC news in eastern Ukraine Let’s get more on this. We can cross over live to Kyiv to speak to Matthew Hollingworth, who is the World Food Program’s emergency coordinator for Ukraine.
When we talk about 20 million tons of grain stuck in silos around the Odesa area what are we talking about in terms of people being fed? The country used to feed 400 million people a year. That’s how much food they exported last year.
And you talk about the 20 million tonnes of food that have been blocked because of the fighting and the closure of the reports and the 60,000, sorry, 60 million tons of harvest expected this year, of which 40 million should be normally exported.
So the amount is enormous. As I said, you’re talking about two or three or 400 million people around the world that would normally rely on food coming from Ukraine. Can you help us to understand the difficulties?
Even though this deal has been signed, it’s not a permanent deal. It’s for a period of time, but it’s not going to automatically mean that this grain will be accessible. We just heard from the Donbass, and there’s a massive shortage of fuel in this country, which means we still have a blockage right now which is yet to be operationalized.
This agreement, once it’s operationalized, is going to be absolutely key for this country it means that those blockages will start to unblock, food will start to be exported, and that may over time have a significant impact on the global world markets on the food inflation that many countries are facing, but it’s going to take time, it’s not easy, and there is a war still happening in areas where you know people should be harvesting right now.
Can you just help us to understand why that is important right now? All over the world, you’re seeing huge fuel and food inflation issues, and we’ve got double-digit inflation in many many countries where food insecurity is a major risk.
We’ve got triple levels of food inflation in places like Lebanon and Venezuela, and you know, these countries are desperate for this support, and yet what we also know is that if the world faces a food access problem, the ability to afford the food that is directly available right now, we know in a year’s time, without fertilizer, there will be a food availability crisis as well.
When you put those together, the figures that we are facing right now are 345 million people living in acute food insecurity.
Those numbers can only continue to go up, so it’s absolutely critical that these two initiatives be signed at the same time and moving forward to get the food out of this country to start trying to balance food inflation and provide confidence to food markets around the world.
Ref: BBC News Bulletin