The outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February 2022 threatened global food supply chains and prices, consequently elevating the risk of global food insecurity for 47 million people. In response, the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) was a negotiated agreement to safely transport grain, fertilizers and other foodstuff from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, via Türkiye, to world markets. The resumption of Ukrainian exports decreased global food prices and increased food supply, supporting global food security. The agreement was initiated in April 2022 and signed in July 2022 by the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine, and the United Nations.*
Between 2021 and 2022, Ukraine supplied 46 percent of global sunflower oil exports, 17 percent of barley exports, 12 percent of maize exports and 9 percent of wheat exports. It was also a critical supplier of fertilizer in the world. For example, in Lebanon, Ukrainian wheat accounted for 74 percent of all wheat imports.1 Ukraine also supplied half of the grain stock of the World Food Programme (WFP), which is pivotal in alleviating global food insecurity.2
Before the war, Ukrainian exports were transported by sea (90 percent) and land (10 percent).3 However, the war in Ukraine complicated the export of grains, and sea exports halted altogether, causing a global grain shortage and an associated price hike, which coincided with a global rise in inflation. The price of wheat increased from USD 374.24 per metric ton (MT) in January 2022 to USD 486.30 per MT at the start of the war in March 2022 (and peaked at USD 522.29 per MT by May 2022).4
At the time, WFP warned that the war had directly put an additional 47 million people at risk of acute food insecurity.5 Not only did the suspension of grain exports impact immediate global food security, but the suspension and price hike of fertilizers also threatened long-term food security. Many farmers in developing countries could not access or afford fertilizers, affecting future grain harvests.
In response, in April 2022, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to propose a solution to safely resume Ukrainian agricultural exports and stabilize global food supply and prices. The President of Türkiye, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, supported the negotiations. On July 22, 2022, the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine, and the United Nations signed the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI).6
The initiative came into force immediately upon the signature of the agreement and was agreed to last 120 days. It enabled the resumption of Ukrainian exports of commercial grain and fertilizers by allowing cargo ships to pass safely through the Black Sea to and from the Ukrainian ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.7 It also prohibited attacks against commercial vessels and port facilities engaged in the initiative.8
A Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) was established on July 17, 2022 to facilitate the implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The JCC is hosted in Istanbul and comprises representatives from the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine and the United Nations. The United Nations is the secretariat of the JCC and, as such, supports the center’s administration and facilitates discussions between member parties.9 The United Nations Office on Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) led the United Nations’ participation in the initiative, with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), whose inspectors examine the shipments to ensure that only authorized goods are being transported in and out of Ukraine and that crew members match those approved by the JCC, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and other United Nations agencies. 10
Under the initiative, cargo ships due to carry Ukrainian exports are first inspected at the JCC by representatives from the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine, and the United Nations before being guided by Ukrainian vessels through a humanitarian maritime corridor to one of the three aforementioned Ukrainian ports, where they are laden with agricultural exports, and guided back to the JCC in Istanbul by Ukrainian vessels. When laden with exports, the cargo ship is inspected by all JCC representatives and permitted to travel from Istanbul to its final destination. The primary responsibility of the inspection teams is to guarantee the absence of unauthorized cargoes and personnel on inbound or outbound vessels.11 In addition to coordinating the inspection of cargo ships, the JCC monitors the movement of all commercial vessels operating under the initiative. 12
The agreement was initially agreed to last for 120 days and was repetitively renewed. It was last renewed on May 17, 2023 for sixty days.13 In 17 July 2023, the Russian Federation withdrew from the BSGI, and all activities across the humanitarian maritime corridor were stopped.
After intense negotiations led by the United Nations and Türkiye, the initiative demonstrates the potential of international cooperation to build solidarity under challenging conditions, prioritizing the United Nations ethos of leaving no one behind.
As of June 15, 2023, 31,902,478 MT of grain and foodstuffs had been exported under the BSGI, and the JCC had facilitated the safe navigation of 1,940 voyages through the Black Sea.14
Due to the BSGI and other initiatives, such as the European Union’s Solidarity Lanes initiative, global food prices have fallen substantially and are only marginally above the pre-war level. During the first months of the BSGI, global wheat prices fell from a peak of USD 522.29 per MT in May 2022 to USD 382.86 per MT in August 2022. As of April 2023, prices had stabilized at USD 378.18 per MT.15
To ease global food insecurity, 64 percent of wheat and 51 percent of maize exported through the BSGI has been delivered to developing countries, where the rate of food insecurity is highest. Essential supplies of grain were chartered by the WFP to support humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan, and Yemen.16
However, it is worth noting that global food insecurity has increased in 2023 due to a combination of conflict (outside Ukraine), economic shocks, climate change and elevated fertilizer prices. More than 345 million people continue to face high levels of food insecurity in 2023, including 900,000 people who face the threat of famine.17
On July 17, 2023, the Russian Federation withdrew from the BSGI, and all activities across the humanitarian maritime corridor were stopped. The Russian withdrawal caused an immediate increase in global cereal prices. As a result, the United Nations secretary-general has urged all nations involved in the deal to cooperate and facilitate an agreement on the renewal of the initiative.18
To support the establishment of the BSGI, two United Nations task teams were created. The first focused on Ukrainian agricultural exports through the Black Sea (as presented above). The second focused on facilitating exports of Russian food and fertilizers, and is headed by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).19
“Loading of wheat on the ship,” ©Adobe Stock/Igor Strukov
- 1. ESCWA, “Inequality in the Arab Region: food insecurity fuels inequality,” 2023, https://www.unescwa.org/publications/inequality-arab-region-food-insecurity-fuels-inequality.
- 2. BBC News, “What Is the Ukraine Grain Deal?” BBC News, May 19, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-61759692.
- 3. Mobility and Transport, “European Commission to Establish Solidarity Lanes to Help Ukraine Export Agricultural Goods,” European Commission, May 12, 2022, https://transport.ec.europa.eu/news-events/news/european-commission-establish-solidarity-lanes-help-ukraine-export-agricultural-goods-2022-05-12_en.
- 4. “Ukrainian Grain Exports Explained - Consilium,” Council of the European Union, Accessed June 16, 2023, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/infographics/ukrainian-grain-exports-explained.
- 5. “Needs at All-Time High Even before the War in Ukraine, Food Crises Report Says | World Food Programme,” WFP, May 4, 2022, https://www.wfp.org/stories/needs-all-time-high-even-war-ukraine-food-crises-report-says.
- 6. “Black Sea Grain Initiative | Background,” United Nations, Accessed June 16, 2023, https://www.un.org/en/black-sea-grain-initiative/background.
- 7. Ibid.
- 8. “Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs From ...,,” United Nations, July 22, 2022, https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/black_sea_grain_initiative_full_text.pdf.
- 9. Black Sea Grain Initiative | Joint Coordination Centre,” United Nations, Accessed June 16, 2023, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/frontpage/2023/March/unodc-inspectors-to-continue-providing-support-as-deal-allowing-for-sea-export-of-ukraine-grain-renewed.html.
- 11. “Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain.”
- 12. Black Sea Grain Initiative | Background.”
- 13. “Secretary-General’s Press Encounter on the Black Sea Initiative Secretary-General,” United Nations, May 17, 2023, https://www.un.org/en/black-sea-grain-initiative/update-15-june-2023.
- 15. “Ukrainian Grain Exports Explained - Consilium."
- 16. Ibid.
- 17. “A Global Food Crisis: World Food Programme,” UN World Food Programme, Accessed June 19, 2023, https://www.wfp.org/global-hunger-crisis.
- 18. Denton, John, Daniel Flitton, Taylor Dibbert, and Bec Strating, “Why the Black Sea Grain Initiative Must Be Restored,” Lowy Institute, July 19, 2018, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/why-black-sea-grain-initiative-must-be-restored.
- 19. “Black Sea Grain Initiative | Joint Coordination Centre.”