The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has issued a cautionary statement to Nigeria and other African countries regarding the need to prepare for higher food prices. Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, Isobel Coleman, USAID’s deputy administrator for policy and programming, attributed the looming food price increase to Russia’s recent decision to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was established in July 2022 to address the global food crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a neighboring country and a key grain exporter. Under the initiative, commercial food and fertilizer exports, including ammonia, were permitted from three crucial Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea region: Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.

Coleman highlighted that the impact of the hike in food prices would be most acutely felt in developing countries heavily reliant on grain imports, particularly those that traditionally depended on supplies from Ukraine. She revealed that in the few weeks since Russia’s withdrawal from the initiative, the government of Ukraine estimated that missile and drone attacks have destroyed 180,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grains stored in facilities.

According to Coleman, this quantity of grain would have been sufficient to feed nearly 12 million people for an entire month. The warning from USAID underscores the potential challenges that countries in Africa, including Nigeria, may face in light of the disrupted grain supply chain and its potential impact on food prices.

“It is very, very important to keep in mind that countries that import grains, those grains are global commodities and they are priced globally. And taking off from the market one of the world’s largest breadbaskets – Ukraine – by doing that, Russia is increasing global food prices,” Coleman said.

“We’ve already seen how when the Black Sea Grain Initiative deal came into place, global food prices came down over time, and since Russia has pulled out of the agreement, food prices have again been on the rise.

“And this affects every country around the world, but it affects most acutely large importing developing countries that have to spend much more of their precious foreign exchange resources to purchase food to feed their populations.”

Coleman said Russia’s withdrawal from the initiative, which in principle, prevented Ukraine from exporting grain to Nigeria and other developing countries, would have dire consequences for food security.

She said 65 percent of the grains from the Black Sea Grain Initiative have gone to developing countries and 20 percent have gone directly to the least developed countries.

Coleman recalled that in the wake of the last food crisis that rocked global food security in 2008, the US government launched “Feed The Future” – an approach to invest in food security and making countries more resilient to food crises.

“And today we invest in more than 40 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, really around the world, and we have 20 – sorry, 20 target countries that have very high levels of poverty and hunger, and also a strong potential for agriculture to drive economic growth and to transform food systems,” she said.

Coleman said USAID was currently exploring alternate routes — via the Danube, via road, via rail –for exporting Ukraine’s grains.

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