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Global Economy

Grain exports via the Danube are difficult

Before the war, Ukraine was one of the world's largest exporters of wheat and other grains. Ukrainian farmers recently stated that because of the war they were exporting half less grain every month than in peacetime. Denys Marchuck from the Ukrainian Agriculture Council speaks of grain exports of around five to six million tons per month before the war. In June it was now about 2.2 million tons. According to Marchuk, these are losses that cannot be made up for.

The main reason why Ukraine is currently exporting so much less grain is that Russia is blocking Ukrainian ports. In peacetime, most of Ukraine's grain was exported across the Black Sea through these very ports.

Export of grain via the Danube is to start

Because of the blockade, Ukraine is now trying to export its grain through other routes – for example through the ports of Romania, Lithuania and Poland or through the Danube. According to government information, the country can export grain by ship – despite the Russian blockade of the Black Sea ports.

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure, 16 merchant ships have already passed through the mouth of the Danube Delta. They could now be loaded with grain. This is happening in the three Ukrainian Danube ports. This was made possible thanks to the liberation of Snake Island, the Ukrainian side said. Ukraine recaptured the island at the end of June – and has thus regained control of the Danube Delta and the access to the sea.

More than 90 other ships are waiting in the Romanian Sulina Canal, another branch of the Danube. According to Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuri Waskov, only four ships per day can be handled on the Sulina route. However, eight ships per day are needed to export grain. Ukraine is therefore negotiating with its Romanian colleagues and representatives of the European Commission to increase transit capacity. In addition, regular traffic jams at the Danube ports are problematic.

Rail could soon become too expensive

Most recently, many Ukrainian grain exporters had attempted to ship all or part of their deliveries to Europe by rail – to end customers in the EU, but also to reach the ports of Romania, Lithuania and Poland and the grain from there to Africa and Asia to transport.

However, this export route could soon become too expensive. The reason for this are plans by the Ukrainian railways to raise prices for grain exports. As a result, some companies fear closures. More than a third of farms are threatened with bankruptcy, says Martschuck from the Agricultural Council:

Truck exports cause traffic jams

Even with truck transport, the pre-war quantities of grain could not be exported. The reason for this is that the customs infrastructure is not sufficiently developed, according to the country's Ministry of Infrastructure. This leads to long queues at the border crossings.

Burning fields in southeastern Ukraine

In addition, the work of farmers in Ukraine has been severely impaired or even impossible as a result of the war. In the Zaporizhia region in the southeast of the country, wheat fields are said to have burned. Apparently they burst into flames after being shot at. Eyewitnesses and activists released footage of ears of wheat burning in an area the size of 28 football pitches.

Many fields are also littered with projectiles and mines. Therefore, farmers must plow and harvest under fire and avoid mines. This is particularly bitter for central Ukraine and the south, because the soils there are considered to be particularly fertile.

Because alternative export routes are cumbersome and expensive, lifting the port blockade is considered crucial for grain exports in Ukraine. It's not just about exporting the grain, but also about emptying the stores for the new harvest. Otherwise, farmers fear having to leave the fresh grain on the fields.

Kuleba is optimistic about talks

Hopes are therefore pinned on a meeting in Istanbul, at which representatives from Russia, Ukraine, the United Nations and Turkey are currently discussing a possible resumption of grain deliveries via the Black Sea. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, a solution could actually be negotiated at the meeting. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, Kuleba said they were "two steps away from an agreement with Russia." Kuleba assured that an attempt will be made to eliminate all security concerns.

"Russia not interested in Ukraine exporting"

When asked what reasons Russia could have for allowing grain exports, the minister said: "I see only one reason: you want to show the countries of Africa and Asia that you want to protect them from (food) shortages." Although the foreign minister was optimistic, he acknowledged that things were not yet settled. "It is true that Russia is not interested in Ukraine exporting. You know that when we export, we also generate income on international markets and thereby become stronger."

With information from Palina Milling, for the ARD studio in Moscow, currently in Cologne

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