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Russia, Ukraine extend grain deal to aid hungry nations as global food prices surge

FILE PHOTO: Vessels are seen as they await inspection under the Black Sea Grain Initiative in the southern anchorage of th...

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An unprecedented deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices are pushing more people into poverty has been extended just before it expired. . date, officials said Saturday.

The United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the extension, but neither confirmed how long it would last. The UN, Turkey and Ukraine asked for 120 days, while Russia said it was ready to agree to 60 days.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov announced on Twitter on Saturday that the agreement will remain in force for four months longer. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the Russian news agency Tass that Moscow “agreed to extend the agreement by 60 days.”

This is the second renewal of separate agreements Ukraine and Russia signed with the United Nations and Turkey to allow food to leave the Black Sea region after Russia invaded its neighbor more than a year ago.

The belligerent nations are also major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that developing countries depend on.

Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilizer — which was supposed to be made possible by its deal with Turkey and the UN — are not reaching global markets, a problem for Moscow since the deal first came into force in August. However, it was renewed in November for another four months.

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that 25 million metric tons (about 28 million tons) of grain and food products had been transferred to 45 countries under the initiative, helping to lower global food prices and stabilize markets.

“We remain strongly committed to both agreements and call on all parties to redouble their efforts to fully implement them,” Dujarric said.

The war in Ukraine led to record food prices last year and contributed to a global food crisis that is also linked to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate factors such as drought.

Disruption in the supply of grains needed for staple foods in places like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria has exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions of people into poverty or food insecurity. People in developing countries spend more money on basic things like food.

READ MORE: Inflation has pushed 71 million people into poverty since the start of the war in Ukraine

According to the UN World Food Programme, about 345 million people have faced food insecurity due to the crisis.

Food prices have fallen for 11 months in a row, but food was already expensive before the war due to droughts from America to the Middle East – most devastating in the Horn of Africa, with thousands of people dying in Somalia. Poorer countries that depend on imported food priced in dollars spend more as their currencies weaken.

The accords also faced setbacks as they were brokered by the UN and Turkey: Russia briefly withdrew in November before rejoining and extending the deal. In recent months, inspections aimed at ensuring that the ships are carrying only grain and not weapons have slowed.

This has led to a backlog of ships waiting in Turkish waters and a recent drop in the amount of grain leaving Ukraine.

Ukrainian and some US officials have blamed Russia for the slowdown, which the country denies.

While fertilizers are stuck, Russia has exported huge amounts of wheat after a record crop. Data from financial data provider Refinitiv showed Russian wheat exports more than doubled to 3.8 million tonnes in January from the same month a year ago, before the invasion.

Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December and January, up 24 percent from the same three months a year earlier, according to Refinitiv. It is estimated that Russia will export 44 million tons of wheat in the period 2022-2023.

Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Elise Morton in London and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.

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