The Black Sea Grain Initiative: When the United Nations Brokers Profits for Corporations, Bankers, and Oligarchs
“I am so moved watching the wheat fill up the hold of the ship. It was the loading of hope for so many around the world,” said United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, as a cargo ship was loaded up with Ukrainian grain in August 2022. Mr. Guterres was launching the Black Sea Grain Initiative, purportedly to prevent famines and a global food crisis by enabling food exports from Ukraine, amidst the Russian military blockade. USAID claimed that the “lifesaving deal”, which was renewed on May 18, 2023, “helps people in need across the globe by delivering desperately needed grains to lower income countries and bringing down food prices.” The European Commission celebrated the initiative as a “a critical step forward in efforts to overcome the global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”
Mr. Guterres’ hope, loaded on the cargo ship, has however since gone missing at sea.
Despite the hype in political circles and the Western media that the Initiative was essential to secure food supply for those in need – particularly in Africa – data released by the United Nations offers a starkly different reality
Despite the hype in political circles and the Western media that the Initiative was essential to secure food supply for those in need — particularly in Africa — data released by the United Nations offers a starkly different reality. As of May 2023, only 3 percent of the food commodities exported from Ukraine under the initiative has gone to low-income countries. Out of the 30.3 million tons exported, a mere 2 percent — 625,000 tons — went to the World Food Programme for food aid operations around the globe.
The top destination for Ukraine’s agricultural exports is the European Union, with China being second. Spain is the largest recipient in Europe. Instead of offering relief, Ukrainian exports are threatening the livelihoods of millions of European farmers — to the extent that Hungary and Poland banned imports from Ukraine in April 2023 to protect their farmers. As Ukraine and the European Commission pressured for the ban to be lifted, Hungarian and Polish farmers pushed back, asking the critical question: Who actually benefits from these exports?
The Oakland Institute’s report, War and Theft: The Takeover of Ukraine’s Agricultural Land, answers the question. It exposed that the producers exporting commodities from Ukraine are mostly large-agribusinesses and oligarchs, associated with European and North American financial interests. Furthermore, the report detailed how these producers are heavily indebted to Western financial institutions, in particular the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) — the private sector arm of the World Bank. Together, these institutions are major lenders to Ukrainian agribusinesses, with close to US$1.7 billion lent to just six of Ukraine’s largest landholding firms in recent years. Other key lenders are a mix of mainly European and North American financial institutions — both public and private.
Renewing the Black Sea Initiative and maintaining the flow of exports from Ukraine has nothing to do with supporting the struggling Ukrainian farmers or the trumpeted goal to prevent a global food crisis
Renewing the Black Sea Initiative and maintaining the flow of exports from Ukraine has nothing to do with supporting the struggling Ukrainian farmers or the trumpeted goal to prevent a global food crisis — which has been largely triggered by speculation on global food markets. Food prices skyrocketed when global stocks of cereals were at historically high levels according to the World Bank.
Pretending their goal is to fight world hunger is appallingly deceitful, when, with the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the United Nations has become a business broker for agribusiness corporations. In violation of its values and the principles of the United Nations Charter, together with the Western banks and financial institutions, the United Nations is supporting large food trading companies, oligarchs, and their lenders and shareholders, to sustain export business and grow profits despite the carnage of war.