“Grain from Ukraine”: A humanitarian success the world must support

Ukraine has been helping vulnerable populations across the world even while faced with an increasingly challenging war of aggression in its own territory.

Ukraine has been helping vulnerable populations across the world even while faced with an increasingly challenging war of aggression in its own territory – in what is yet another clear demonstration of character and resilience by the Ukrainians. For more than a year and a half now, Ukraine’s been shipping tens of thousands of tons of grain and other food supplies as humanitarian aid to countries facing malnutrition and hunger in Africa and in other regions of the planet. It’s been doing so by means of “Grain from Ukraine,” a humanitarian initiative which was launched by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in November 2022 and by which Ukraine aims to help overcome the humanitarian and economic impacts of the heightened food insecurity which was brought upon the world by the war itself and by the attack on the great global food exporter that Ukraine is.

Grain from Ukraine is organized by Kyiv in partnership with the World Food Program (WFP) and with more than 30 other actors, including many EU member states, the U.S., Korea, Qatar, Norway, Canada, Japan, Türkiye, the UK and Switzerland. By late 2023, 170 thousand tons of grain had already been donated under the auspices of the initiative to Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya and Afghanistan. Since then, another 25 thousand tons of wheat were shipped to Nigeria, hundreds of tons of food aid were donated to help populations in Mauritania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and two major shipments of wheat flour were delivered to Sudan, where the ongoing civil war has been leading to a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Henceforth, Grain from Ukraine is also expected to supply Gaza, Malawi, Djibouti and Mozambique, while potential shipments to Haiti, Somalia, Madagascar, Liberia, Chad, Lebanon and others are reportedly being discussed. Grain from Ukraine could thus come to save many lives, especially in an African continent which was gravely affected by the global impacts of the war in Ukraine and wherein tens of millions of human beings are still living under acute food insecurity, even while regional food challenges are now made worse by economic turbulence, persistent conflict and climate change in West and Central Africa and by extreme climate events in Southern Africa and in East Africa – where the Horn is further afflicted by conflict and economic woes.

Grain from Ukraine is funded by Kyiv’s partners, but also by the state budget of a war-torn Ukraine. However, anyone – from individuals to companies and NGOs – can help fund the initiative through donations. The food supplies for humanitarian aid are bought from Ukrainian producers, who are thus helped to subsist in the face of war and uncertainty.

Grain from Ukraine’s humanitarian shipments add to Ukraine’s globally indispensable commercial food exports, which, despite having been gravely impacted by Russia’s aggression, have so far, and even during wartime, been performing a vital role for the supply of grain and other foodstuffs to world markets. Both those exports and the humanitarian shipments themselves are essential for feeding millions across the globe and for addressing a growingly assertive global food crisis. In all this, Grain from Ukraine has the added merit of raising further awareness on the reality of global hunger and on the imperative necessity of overcoming it. Moreover, its aid operations enrich the WFP’s work and aggregate to other humanitarian efforts in the face of declining capacity to address escalating humanitarian needs across the globe. Grain from Ukraine is therefore a relevant testimony of human solidarity in an increasingly conflicted and hungry planet and it should be firmly supported by all countries.

Kyiv’s humanitarian designs are inspired by the Holodomor, the mass famine which was inflicted on Ukraine in 1932/33 by Stalin’s Soviet regime – then leading to the deaths of millions of Ukrainians – and which has since been recognized by many international actors as a genocide against the Ukrainian people. As written for Kenya’s The Star by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, the collective historical trauma of the Holodomor “explains why feeding the world” and helping “those facing severe hunger threats is more than just a humanitarian mission for us”, but also “a matter of principle”. Ukraine didn’t just survive the famine; it also took on “the role of global food security guarantor”.

Grain from Ukraine was thus launched on the highly symbolic date of November 26, 2022, the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor – with Zelensky asserting Ukraine would never forget its role as a responsible global citizen, especially after having experienced famine itself.

Ukraine’s humanitarian food donations go hand-in-hand with the work of the International Coordination Group for the Prevention of Hunger, which was instituted under Grain from Ukraine and which is now developing a joint global action roadmap to prevent the world food crisis from worsening. Additionally, Kyiv has been taking steps toward building grain hubs in Africa, so as to ensure an uninterrupted supply of grain even during a crisis. Such grain hubs, along with Grain from Ukraine, could be key for strengthening Africa’s food security and for enabling a deeper engagement between Ukraine and Africa. Kyiv has actually been opening new embassies across the Continent and is looking for boosting cooperation with African capitals in such areas as trade, diplomacy, agriculture, technology and defense. Kyiv would also like to organize a Ukraine-Africa Summit and to engage Africa in Ukraine’s Peace Formula process, a key matter of which is food security.

Grain from Ukraine could also be very important for Western countries, which have, by means of an active and publicly visible commitment to the initiative, a privileged occasion for consolidating relations with Africa, at a time when Russia’s been building influence across the Continent and reportedly cultivating and exploiting anti-Western sentiment across African societies. The West should therefore ensure Grain from Ukraine’s vigorous expansion. Assertively bolstering the initiative would, moreover, further highlight the global indispensability of Ukraine’s food exports and also how attempting against those actually means attempting against the most vulnerable. That would be critical to protecting Ukraine’s agricultural and export capabilities, which have so far been ravaged by the destruction unleashed by Russia. Since February 2022, vast swathes of fertile land were either occupied, turned into combat zones, or contaminated by landmines, unexploded ordnance or toxic elements arising from combat-created pollution. Countless farms, agricultural infrastructures and machinery were either damaged or destroyed, and Ukraine’s grain and oilseeds production was extensively impacted. Farm animals were killed in vast numbers, and there was widespread damage to crops and grain supplies. Additionally, and after Ukraine fed the world through its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) – with 57 percent of exports going to developing countries –, Russia didn’t just collapse the Initiative, it also went on to persistently attack Ukraine’s Black Sea and Danube ports in southern Ukraine and to challenge freedom and security of navigation in regional sea lanes. But Ukraine didn’t waver and, even under attack, managed to open a new Black Sea maritime corridor by which it’s been carrying on with its food exports. Even so, the damages and losses which have so far been inflicted on Ukraine’s agriculture reportedly amount to more than USD 80 billion, with all that destruction constraining Ukraine’s food production potential – to the foreseeable harm of many millions across the globe.

It’s vital for the West to remain adamant in its support for Ukraine. Likewise, it can and should ensure the protection of southern Ukraine and its ports from the threat of a Russian ground offensive. A successful Russian invasion of southern Ukraine would gravely harm a sea export dependent Ukraine and it would put Russia’s ground forces in position for threatening Moldova and NATO territory itself. Furthermore, the West must keep providing Kyiv with the means it needs to protect commercial shipping and to carry on with its military victories in the Black Sea region. From the war’s early months on to this day, the Ukrainians devastated scores of Russian warships through daring missile and drone attacks, with this actually enabling Kyiv, following the collapse of the BSGI, to end Russia’s naval blockade, keep the Russian fleet at bay and establish the new Black Sea maritime corridor. Furthermore, such feats already allowed Ukraine to export millions of tons of goods, mostly food, by means of the new corridor – even while it’s also been exporting large volumes of food by land and by inland waterways. This has however been taking place amidst frequent Russian attacks on Ukrainian export infrastructure.

Ultimately, Ukraine’s valor could potentially inspire Africa and the rest of the international community to demand of Russia that it ceases all attacks on Ukraine’s farming and export capabilities, on the ground that such capabilities are indispensable for world food security. As Zelensky himself said during a 2023 Grain from Ukraine summit, the moral duty of all states is to prevent anyone from starving in the modern world. Each and every country should act on Zelensky’s words by fully standing up for Ukraine’s agriculture and food exports.

Miguel Garrido
Miguel Garrido
Portuguese columnist and independent researcher