Yehor Cherniev: Ukraine is Ready to Resume Grain Exports to Africa, Russian Missiles Could Derail Our Efforts

Yehor Cherniev: Ukraine is Ready to Resume Grain Exports to Africa, Russian Missiles Could Derail Our Efforts

Ukrainian MP Yehor Cherniev speaks on the global food crisis, Russian blockade at the Black Sea ports fueling hunger crisis in Africa, the high-stakes grain exports deal in Turkey, and more.

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The world is facing a new kind of crisis – a global food crisis!

In a 2022 report titled A Year of Unprecedented Hunger, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates a staggering 828 million people are going to bed hungry, and the number of those staring at an acute food shortage has spiked from 135 million in 2019 to 350 million.

Ukrainian Member of Parliament Yehor Cherniev.
Ukrainian Member of Parliament Yehor Cherniev. He said Ukraine is determined to get the grain to African and Asian countries hardest hit by food shortage. Photo: Yehor Cherniev.
Source: UGC

Fueling the hunger crisis is a deadly combination of factors, including the Russian war in Ukraine and soaring fuel and food prices. The hardest hit regions are in Africa, which still relies heavily on food imports to feed its 1.4 billion-plus population.

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In an exclusive interview with Briefly News, Ukrainian MP Yehor Cherniev unpacked the global food crisis; how the six-month long blockade at the Black Sea ports exacerbated the hunger crisis in Africa; the grain export deal in Turkey; Africa’s role in ending the food crisis; how Ukraine could help Kenya become a global food supplier, and more.

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Below is the excerpt:

On July 22, Ukraine signed an agreement with the United Nations (UN) and Turkey to resume the export of grain that was being blocked at the Black Sea ports by Russia. Has there been any progress in implementing this agreement?

We had made a lot of efforts to start the negotiations, with the help of the UN and Turkey, to remove the Russian blockade at our ports and start the export of grain to different countries – African and Asian countries.

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Unfortunately, less than 24 hours after signing the agreement, Russia started missile attacks on the Ukrainian ports.

For now, we are still in the process of implementing the agreement, despite the constant missile strikes from Russia. We hope that in the nearest future, Ukraine will be able to steadily export the grain and pull through with the obligations.

Yehor Cherniev posing for a photo while armed with his machine gun.
Yehor Cherniev posing for a photo while armed with his gun. Despite the UN-backed deal in Turkey, Russia is still targeting Ukrainian ports with missiles. Photo: Yehor Cherniev.
Source: UGC

We understand the agreements you signed separately included the establishment of a Joint Coordination Centre to monitor shipments of grains. Is this working, and if so, by when can we expect the exports to reach the markets?

From our side, Ukraine was ready to start the shipments and allow the ships to leave our ports. We clearly understand the (food shortage) situation, that is why we pushed the UN to try to find partners like Turkey to force Russia to sit with them at the table and to start this negotiation about unblocking Ukrainian ports.

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Because of the food crisis in African and Asian countries, we hoped that we will be able to restart the shipment. Actually, the first ship with grains already left Odesa port yesterday (on August, 1-st) and this is the first shipment through this corridor from Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion under an internationally brokered deal to unblock Ukraine’s agricultural exports and ease a growing global food crisis.

But we also have to understand that the problem is not from the Ukrainian side. Russia is invading Ukrainian ports and causing a blockade. When Russia will be ready to remove the blockade, Ukraine will be ready to ship the grains.

While visiting Uganda recently, Russian top diplomat Sergei Lavrov remarked they are not to blame for the food crisis. What would be your comment on this?

This is the usual reaction from Russia. They always try to blame other countries. But let’s understand they started the war against Ukraine, and they blocked the Black Sea ports on Ukrainian territory.

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Russia then tried to use this invasion to create an artificial food crisis to blackmail our western partners. They clearly understood the blockade would lead to a food crisis and that this would create problems for African countries that would be hit by the food shortage.

Russia wants to push us, Ukraine, into some peace negotiations favouring the Russian position, which is Ukraine agreeing the occupied territory is part of Russia.

Apart from the Black Sea ports that are still under attack by Russia, are there any other routes through which you can export?

Of course. When we faced the problem with the shipment of grains since Russia began this war, we started looking for a solution on how to meet our obligations with our trade partners.

We started exporting by the railways and roads, but the volume of grain exported to the market through this means is much less than what can be exported using the ships through the Black Sea.

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Actually, our partners in the European Union (EU) helped us to export some of the grain through their territories by railways, but I think it is just 10% of what can be exported by sea.

It is becoming apparent Moscow cannot be trusted to go through with the Turkey deal (if the recent missile strikes are anything to go by). Is there any assurance from Ukraine's side?

There are no guarantees that Russia will not start some offensive operations against ships from Ukraine. From our side, we will do our best to provide all the security and safety corridors for ships through the Ukrainian ports, with the help of the UN and Turkey.

Apart from wheat, which other agricultural product exports were affected by Russia's blockade of Black Sea ports?

Almost all our agricultural products were affected because this is the main route for the export of agricultural products – things like wheat, corn, sunflower oil etc.

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We have quite a big share in the world market for these provisions. For example, we control 47% of the world market for sunflower oil.

Unfortunately, many countries were affected by this untold aggression by Russia. Sunflower oil was among the agricultural exports that were being blocked.

And it’s not just about the exports from our farmers. We have had problems with the capacity of the warehouses for the new harvests. Right now, all the warehouses are full of grains from the previous year. We have to sell this grain so that we can have more warehouses for the next harvest.

In terms of losses in export earnings, how much are we talking about?

We have different kinds of losses. First, we have direct losses. Our farmers have lost approximately US$ 1.4 billion as a result of the damages caused by Russia.

Second, some of the farmers cannot start work because of a shortage of fuel and silos, some of which were destroyed by Russia. We also have to mention the stolen harvest from Ukraine, which Russia tried to sell to different countries.

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In addition, some of the territories where we grow the wheat are now under occupation by Russia; therefore, farmers cannot work. These are the main damages.

Yehor Cherniev
Yehor Cherniev said Ukraine is working towards ending the war and preventing any war in the future. Photo: Yehor Cherniev.
Source: UGC

Africa Bears the Brunt of Russian War in Ukraine

Africa imports an estimated US$ 2.3 billion worth of food products from Ukraine, mostly wheat. Kenya, in particular, imports wheat, maize, fertilizer and oil seeds – in 2021 alone, Kenya imported oil seeds worth US$ 8.5 million from Ukraine.

The available data show Kenya and several other African countries are still over-reliant on food imports. For instance, Kenya’s exports to Ukraine were estimated at US$9.78 million, whereas the imports from Ukraine were estimated at US$175.98 million as of 2021.

In your opinion, what would be the mutually beneficial long-term solutions to help Kenya become food secure while enjoying a more favourable trade balance with Ukraine?

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I think we have at least two approaches to tackling this problem.

First of all, we all together (African countries, Western world and Ukraine) have to do everything possible on our side to prevent, in the future, any war in this region because, as you understand and as we now understand, lack of food security in one region like Ukraine affects food security in Africa as well; one region depends on the other.

So, what should be done? I think we can influence, through the UN, the position of Russian aggression. The UN General Assembly can create documents, which can lead, at least, to stopping this war and preventing another war in the future, and we need the support of African countries in this.

The second approach is in terms of the logistics chain. I think that some of the agricultural products can be produced in African countries with the help of Ukrainian farmers, for example. We have a lot of experience and new approaches on how to do this. We can help Kenya or other African countries become more independent in terms of food supplies.

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Speaking of Kenya becoming a food supplier, the global food system is dominated by just four giant corporations, commonly referred to as ABCD, initials for ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus, which control the world food trade. What is your position on this?

I think we have to do all our best from our side to prevent any war, and we have to secure our logistics chain from outer attacks.

We had spoken about this with some of our western partners, who are also dependent on Russian energy, for example.

First of all, we must have reliable partners who will use the logistics chain only as a part of trade and not a part of blackmailing, as Russia tried to do in the energy sector where it trades with European countries and food exports where it trades with African countries by blocking these logistics chain to start an artificial fuel and food crisis to influence these countries.

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So, yes, we have to revise the relationship with these autocratic countries and become more independent from them.

Yehor Cherniev
Yehor Cherniev said Ukraine has the knowledge and experience in the agricultural sector, and is open to helping African countries address the food security situation. Photo: Yehor Cherniev.
Source: UGC

Agriculture Lessons, Best Practices from Ukraine

Digital innovation in agriculture is still a largely untapped area in most African countries, owing to factors such as underdeveloped ICT infrastructure.

How can Kenya leverage digital innovation to transform its agricultural sector?

Well, I think we had started this transformation in the early 2000s. The incorporation of the agricultural sector and ICT sector depends on a few factors. First, there should be high internet access because it will give it some sort of base.

Second, there should be good ICT education in the universities or in some private schools, which will provide knowledge about the new technologies. It will allow to raise a new generation of developers, who will be able to start some startups to develop new technologies and solutions for you.

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The third factor is access to the capital. There will be no new technologies without investments in startups.

Lastly, you need some incubators or accelerators for these startups. These can be established by the big farmers, big agricultural companies because it helps them to find proper solutions for their projects.

In Ukraine, for example, agricultural companies started some funding programmes for startups. They are ready to finance you if you will be able to solve the problem in our projects. And then, the startups developed some new approaches and products for agricultural companies. This led to more efficiency.

Are there specific projects in the agricultural sector where Kenya and Ukraine can be able to cooperate?

This depends on Kenya’s priorities as a country because we have different solutions in the agricultural sectors.

This is one area where we can be useful to each other, but we have to understand the main problem in the production process. It can be discussed on the ground with the agreed company or maybe with your ministry of agriculture.

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So, the solution can be defined from the problem.

Any other comments?

Well, we will have a lot in common in the future, not only in the field of agriculture, but we have to make our cooperation wider in different spheres.

We are open to helping Kenya, and I hope that Kenya will also be open to helping Ukraine.

Ukrainian residents strike back at Russian invaders, food supplies poisoned and soldiers killed

In a related matter, Briefly News also reported Ukrainian residents are taking the fight against the Russian invaders by poisoning food supplies in an effort to sabotage the soldiers' efforts.

At least two Russian soldiers have died and 28 additional soldiers have been sickened after they ate food supplied to them by Ukrainian civilians.

Yehor Cherniev is a Ukrainian Member of Parliament, startup owner and digital innovations expert with vast knowledge and experience in the agricultural sector.

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Source: TUKO.co.ke

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