Istanbul (Türkiye), 20 March 2023 — On Sunday, the United Nations (UN) announced the renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which had been due to expire on Saturday.
Brokered by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and the Government of Türkiye in July 2022, the Black Sea Grain Initiative was established to enable the safe voyage of commercial ships to allow exports from Ukraine of grain, related foodstuffs, and fertilizer, including ammonia, to world markets. The initiative is implemented by the Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) and led by the UN Office on Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) with the support of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and other UN agencies.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) plays a critical role in the functioning of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Under the deal, Ukrainian vessels guide cargo ships up to international waters of the Black Sea, avoiding mined areas. The vessels then proceed to or from Istanbul along the agreed maritime humanitarian corridor.
Ships heading to and from the Ukrainian ports are inspected by JCC teams comprised of Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian and UN inspectors. UNODC inspectors examine the shipments to ensure that no other goods are leaving or entering Ukraine apart from those that are authorized, and that the crew is consistent with information received at the JCC.
UNODC inspector Victoria Khoury describes the inspections as a “unique mission,” adding that “it is not a regular job... it is a job that makes a difference, a difference to the whole world.”
“When we board the ship, we do a physical inspection of the vessel – the accommodation, the bridge, the ballast tanks, the cargo holds,” she continued. “We also check all the documents, we conduct passport and face control checks, and we brief the master about how to navigate safely within the humanitarian corridor.”
As of 17 March, UNODC inspectors have helped to clear over 1600 vessels bringing over 24.9 million metric tons of grains and foodstuffs to the world. Nearly 21 per cent has gone to Low and Lower-Income countries, including 44 per cent of wheat exports, while the World Food Programme has transported over 481,000 metric tonnes of wheat grain from Ukrainian ports intended for the hungriest in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen.
Additionally, by helping food exports reach global supply chains, the BSGI has helped to lower prices, reducing financial burdens on consumers worldwide. Indeed, the Food Price Index has decreased by almost 20 per cent from its peak in March 2022. (More information on the impact of the BSGI can be found here.)
Importantly, the BSGI has allowed for greater consistency, predictability, and hope, representing multilateralism in action. As noted by the UN Secretary-General, it’s a powerful example of the “importance of discreet diplomacy in the context of finding multilateral solutions.”
UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly welcomed the extension of the initiative. “UNODC has been actively involved in implementing the Black Sea Grain initiative since its inception. We remain fully committed and proud to support this important initiative, which is contributing to stabilizing global food prices and food security for millions in need. Our capable inspectors will continue to carry out their work with great determination.”here.
Before 2022, Ukraine had served as one of the world’s main “breadbaskets”, supplying around 45 million tonnes of grain annually to the global market. The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, however, disrupted the normal trade of food and fertilizers. Mountains of grain and other foods built up at Ukrainian ports, contributing to even higher staple food prices and increasing the number of people on the brink of famine.
For updates on the JCC and the Black Sea Grain Initiative, click here.
To learn more about UNODC, click here.