Ukraine looks at expanding grain exports to Africa

11 March 2024 - 20:54
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Maksym Subkh, Ukraine's special representative for the Middle East and Africa.
Maksym Subkh, Ukraine's special representative for the Middle East and Africa.
Image: Andisiwe Makinana

War-torn Ukraine wants to increase investments and expand its grain exports to more African countries.

The country’s economy has been ravaged after the invasion by Russia.

Since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, its focus in Africa has been on northern and eastern Africa and these were its biggest trade and economic partners on the continent. But when the full-scale Russian aggression started, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky decided to enhance the country’s relations with other countries around the world.

“He decided to activate our diplomacy and outreach to African countries to deliver the truth and the right picture about the nature of the Russian aggression,” said Maksym Subkh, Ukraine’s special representative for Africa and the Middle East. His position is equivalent to that of a deputy minister in South Africa.

“We are geographically a bit distant from each other but historically and morally we share the same values and principles, same ideology towards the rights of each nation for dignity, sovereignty, the rights of each nation for statehood.”

Subkh was addressing a group of South African journalists in Ukraine to cover the impact of the war.

Ukraine is one of the world’s major grain producers and feeds about 400-million people worldwide according to the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP). It mainly grows and exports wheat, corn and barley. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, some countries feared a famine, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

Subkh said the Grain from Ukraine programme launched by Zelensky in 2022 was an important signal to the world that Ukraine will remain a stable and reliable guarantor of global food security. The programme aims to provide grain to the poorest countries in Africa.

In 2023, Ukraine sent seven grain ships to African countries with the help of the UNWFP, said Subkh.

“By doing this, we are telling African nations and our partners that the food stability won’t be possible if Ukraine doesn’t intervene and do what it could to save humankind and to guarantee food security for many African nations. We are committed to expanding this initiative.”

Under pressure to catch up, Ukraine is on a charm offensive and hopes to make new friends in Africa while expanding trade relations.

Subkh said they were negotiating with the UNWFP and this involved a number of dollar countries. The aim is to expand the initiative to include recipient countries in dire need of food.

So far, as part of the programme, Ukraine has delivered grain to Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya and is planning to expand its supplies to include Mozambique, Malawi, DRC and Mauritania.

“Each shipment takes a lot of effort and substantial time to organise,” said Subkh.

The programme was not limited to Africa, but also encompasses parts of Asia and Latin America.

“That’s why we require solidarity and help from peace-loving countries and that’s why we require dollars. The more money countries allocate to this programme, the more food security becomes guaranteed in Africa.”

Since Russia withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative it has become a hurdle for Ukraine exporters, farmers and companies to export freely and to deliver their supplies flawlessly to Africa. Subkh accused Russia of weaponising food.

It’s important to mention we never use our grain as a weapon and we never use food as a weapon. On the contrary, Russia does so. Russia uses food as a weapon against those who support Ukraine
Maksym Subkh, Ukraine special representative for Africa and the Middle East

“It’s important to mention we never use our grain as a weapon and we never use food as a weapon. On the contrary, Russia does so. Russia uses food as a weapon against those who support Ukraine,” said Subkh.

He said Ukraine provided grain based on the list of needy countries published by the UN and not based on who supports Ukraine or Russia in the conflict.

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Ukraine and Russia in June 2023 on a mission that included the leaders of Zambia, the Comoros, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Senegal and Uganda as representatives of a continent that has felt the adverse economic impact of the conflict.

The delegation proposed a plan to end the war through diplomatic means, de-escalation of hostilities and the extension of security guarantees to the parties, ensuring the safety of grain and fertiliser exports from Ukraine and Russia to developing countries.

They called for Russia to go back to the Black Sea Grain Initiative and for the opening of the corridor and unhindered supplies not only to Africa, but to others that need it.

Subkh acknowledged the new destinations would help their farmers and the agriculture sector to survive under the war circumstances.

“It also opens new opportunities for co-operation. We have on several occasions said Ukraine doesn’t want to limit itself by supplying only raw materials as it has done through the past few decades.

“We want to establish joint ventures and invest in Africa. When we supply grain to Africa, people discover the possibilities that Ukraine can provide and we are keen to develop the agricultural sector in African countries.”

Subkh said African countries insisted on having Ukraine on the ground to develop their agricultural sector, bearing in mind the legacy Ukraine has in the agrarian sphere.

“We are now trying to explore those opportunities. It’s not easy to penetrate, the markets are not known to ourselves, so our goal as a ministry is to establish a consistent political dialogue with Africa starting with the gateway of Africa which is the AU and ending with concrete establishment of African embassies.”

Ukraine will establish several new embassies in Africa this year, he said.

“Flags will be flying in six embassies on the continent; once that is happening we’ll enhance our trade and economic co-operation in many spheres. We heard through many that if you want to grow you have to be on the ground and show us what you can do and we have decided not to procrastinate and rather establish those embassies in a record time.”

Embassies will be opened in Rwanda, Mozambique, Botswana, DRC, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mauritania, Tanzania and Sudan.

Ukraine has 11 embassies on the continent. Kyiv considers South Africa one of its most important partners on the continent and values its efforts in putting an end to the Russian aggression, said Subkh.

Ukraine also wants to invite South African companies, especially those which specialise in engineering and contractors to rebuild the country’s destroyed civil infrastructure. The war-devastated country is also looking to South Africa’s expertise and equipment in humanitarian demining of Ukraine territories.

Dmytro Barynov, the deputy head of the state-owned Ukrainian Seaports Authority, said the country exported 32-million tonnes of grain during the grain agreement between Russia, Ukraine and the UN and 28-million tonnes since Russia pulled out of the agreement in July 2023.

Only 8-million tonnes of grain were sent to Africa since the beginning of the war, in the main sunflower oil, sunflower seeds and corn, said Barynov.

Russia blockaded shipments from Ukraine via the Black Sea when it began the invasion.


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