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Averting the “World War of Bread”

This worsening catastrophic situation is tormenting Pope Francis who begged for “every effort to be made to guarantee the universal right to food.” “Please do not use wheat as a weapon of war!” he appealed.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio said recently that “the world war of bread” has begun due to the blockade of grain in the sea ports of Ukraine. Currently, between 20 and 25 million tons of grain are blocked, and this number could increase to 70 or 75 million tons.   

Ukraine has been at war since it was invaded by Russia on February 24. The country is one of the world’s largest producers of cereals and agricultural fertilizers, exporting to the entire planet. The Middle East and North Africa rely on these products for their food security. The blockade of Ukrainian products because of the war is making it difficult or even impossible for vulnerable countries to access cereals.

The prices of grain, cooking oil, fertilizer, and energy have soared as the war continues and as Western nations impose sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. These two countries together accounted for nearly 30 percent of the world’s wheat exports in 2021, and wheat prices have risen by over 50 percent since the start of the year.

This worsening catastrophic situation is tormenting Pope Francis who begged for “every effort to be made to guarantee the universal right to food” in one of his weekly audiences in early June. “Please do not use wheat, a staple food, as a weapon of war!” he appealed.

The United Nations has warned of a looming global food crisis. Meanwhile, the global organization is trying to broker a deal to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports despite Western leaders blaming Russia for blockading Ukrainian ports.

To avert this crisis, Ukraine is trying to export its grain as much as possible by road, river, and rail. However, only an end to the blockade can prevent a global food crisis.

Vladimir Putin said Moscow is ready to facilitate grain exports from Ukrainian ports provided that Europe and the United States reduce the sanctions they have imposed on Russia. So, we are at a stalemate as the West will not give in to Russian demands.  

Conversely, the Italian diplomacy is said to be working so that Russia unblocks the export of wheat from Ukrainian ports. Diplomats are engaged in efforts to achieve a peace agreement, covering cereals.

If the conflict drags on and food supplies from Russia and Ukraine are restricted, masses of people in vulnerable nations will fall into poverty and suffer starvation. It is urgent, therefore, to negotiate a way out of the current impasse and release the much needed grains to the world. 

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