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signing ceremony

United Nations (Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend a signature ceremony in Istanbul on July 22, 2022. (Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images)

'A Beacon of Hope': UN Chief Lauds Deal to Export 20+ Million Tons of Ukrainian Grain

The agreement, said António Guterres, will "bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy" and "help stabilize global food prices which were already at record levels even before the war."

Jessica Corbett

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday celebrated an agreement by Russia and Ukraine to free up over 20 million tons of grain exports at blockaded Black Sea ports amid soaring food prices and fears of famine.

"Let there be no doubt—this is an agreement for the world."

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, world leaders including Guterres have warned about the impact on the world's food chain. The Black Sea Grain Initiative was signed at a ceremony in Istanbul attended by the U.N. chief, Russian and Ukrainian ministers, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Guterres thanked Turkey's leader for facilitating the negotiations that produced the agreement, and told the Russian and Ukrainian representatives that "you have overcome obstacles and put aside differences to pave the way for an initiative that will serve the common interests of all."

"Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief—in a world that needs it more than ever," he said. "And let there be no doubt—this is an agreement for the world."

"It will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine," Guterres continued. "And it will help stabilize global food prices which were already at record levels even before the war—a true nightmare for developing countries."

"The initiative we just signed opens a path for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea," he explained. The warring parties also reached an agreement to get Russian food and fertilier to global markets.

The New York Times reported on how the export operation will work:

Ukrainian captains will steer vessels packed with grain out of the ports of Odesa, Yuzhne and Chornomorsk.

Using passages that are not mined, they will pilot the ships to Turkish ports to be unloaded, and the grain will then be shipped to buyers around the world.

The returning vessels will be inspected by a team of Turkish, U.N., Ukrainian and Russian officials to ensure that they are empty, and not carrying weapons to Ukraine, a key Russian demand.

A joint command center with officials from all four parties will be set up immediately in Istanbul to monitor every movement of the flotillas.

The newspaper also noted that "no broad cease-fire has been negotiated, so the ships will be traveling through a war zone," and attacks at the ports or inspection issues could imperil the 120-day deal, which officials hope will be renewed on a rolling basis.

Guterres, in his speech Friday, also acknowledged that in Ukraine, "conflict continues. People are dying every day. Fighting is raging every day."

"The beacon of hope on the Black Sea is shining bright today, thanks to the collective efforts of so many," he added. "In these trying and turbulent times for the region and our globe, let that beacon guide the way towards easing human suffering and securing peace."

Leaders at humanitarian groups cautiously welcomed the agreement.

"The lifting of these blockades will go some way in easing the extreme hunger that over 18 million people in East Africa are facing, with three million already facing catastrophic hunger conditions," said Shashwat Saraf, the International Rescue Committee's East Africa emergency director.

"Let's be clear—this will not end or significantly alter the trajectory of the worsening global food crisis."

"The next and significant step must be fully funding the humanitarian response in the region, to stave off the worst impacts of the drought and prevent a catastrophic, unprecedented famine from fully engulfing the region by the end of the summer," Saraf added.

Tjada D'Oyen McKenna, CEO of Mercy Corps, said that if the deal is respected, it "will help ease grain shortages, but let's be clear—this will not end or significantly alter the trajectory of the worsening global food crisis."

"Unblocking Ukraine's ports will not reverse the damage war has wreaked on crops, agricultural land, and agricultural transit routes in the country; it will not significantly change the price or availability of fuel, fertilizer, and other staple goods that are now beyond the reach of many, particularly in lower-income countries; and it will certainly not help the majority of the 50 million people around the world inching closer to famine stave off starvation," she said.

Highlighting conditions from Afghanistan, Colombia, and Guatemala to Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, McKenna argued that "we must recognize that our global food systems were already failing and record numbers of people were edging toward poverty and hunger due to the economic pummeling of the Covid-19 crisis and the impacts of climate change."

Along with providing emergency assistance, she said, "urgent action must be taken to strengthen agricultural food systems: Scale climate-resilient agricultural production and boost support for local agriculture by providing smallholder farmers the information, financial, and regulatory support they need to help their communities and countries reduce reliance on imports."

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