World and Nation

Stoltenberg discusses global food crisis due to war in Ukraine at closing press conference of Madrid Summit

Many NATO members, including Türkiye, Greece, and Romania have already taken action

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg summarized important developments in the Alliance’s goals for the near future in his closing press conference at the Madrid Summit June 30.

Stoltenberg discussed the global food crisis caused by the Russian naval blockade of Black Sea ports. “The impact is severe, including on some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” he said, adding that food prices are hitting “record highs” so “Allies discussed their efforts to mitigate the crisis and get grain out of Ukraine, by land and on sea.” 

Since its initial invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia has implemented a total blockade on all Ukrainian ports. The blockade has prevented Ukrainian merchant ships from entering Black Sea ports, including Odessa, thus halting the country’s export of its most important good: grain. Beyond naval efforts to restrain the Ukrainian market, Russia has repeatedly bombed grain storage facilities near the Black Sea.

Many NATO members are already taking action.

Stoltenberg reported that “Türkiye plays a key role in trying to facilitate some kind of agreement. Also, Greece announced that they are ready to make available ships to get grain out of Ukraine, and other Allies are involved in different diplomatic efforts to get some kind of agreement to allow ships to sail with wheat over the Black Sea.” 

He continued, noting that ”Romania and other countries updated us on their efforts to expand their own land capacity by railway to transport more food on land. It’s very hard to compensate fully [for] what we can transport by ships but on land is also a way.”

Ukraine’s role in global food security has only grown in prevalence in recent years. 

Considered a critical breadbasket of the world, Ukraine produced 10% of global wheat exports in 2021, as reported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Ukraine is the fifth largest exporter of wheat, and the world’s leading exporter of meal. Today, over 20 million tons of grain are in storage facilities across the landlocked country.

U.N. Secretary General António Gutterres said May 18 that the war in Ukraine could push “tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity, followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years.” U.N. World Food Programme head David Beasley said May 23 that “failure to open the ports in Ukraine will be a declaration of war on global food security.”

The effects of the war on prices have been swift and evident. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen cited rising grain prices globally — in Lebanon, bread prices have already risen by 70%. This trend is likely to continue.

Russia’s control of all traffic in the Northern region of the Black Sea prevents safe commercial shipping. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed its consequences during the Davos forum, stating, “there will be famine, there will be catastrophe, there will be a deficit, there will be a high price.”

Stoltenberg said that the Madrid Summit had been a critical space for Allies to “meet and coordinate and discuss and exchange views and compare notes on the different efforts that NATO Allies are involved in to try to get more grain out of Ukraine, to get food out of Ukraine.”