A cargo boat carrying 26,527 tonnes of grain departed from a Black Sea Port in Ukraine on Monday, marking the first time a food vessel has left the country since Russia invaded in late February, according to the United Nations.
The boat’s departure is a major milestone in the conflict both because it demonstrates the efficacy of diplomacy and has the potential to ease the global food crisis. It took months of negotiation between various parties to secure the boat’s safe passage as it travels to the Mediterranean port of Tripoli in Lebanon, where the grain can then be disbursed.
“The question has not been what is good for one side or the other,” António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, said in a press conference. “The focus has been on what matters most for the people of our world. And let there be no doubt — this is an agreement for the world.”
“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” he added. “A beacon of hope — a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief — in a world that needs it more than ever.”
This beacon of hope and relief comes in the fifth month of the Russian invasion, which has killed thousands of civilians, razed entire cities’ worth of infrastructure, unleashed an environmental catastrophe, and ground Ukraine’s economy to a halt.
Agriculture, in particular, has been disrupted as farmers are unable to safely access their land, manage their harvests, and coordinate supply chains. Ukraine is a major food exporter, so this disruption has harmed global food security, with food price increases and shortages occurring in many countries.
In fact, forecasters feared that the war would nearly double the amount of people struggling with chronic and severe hunger by the end of the year. While that threat is still alive, the deal to allow safe transport of food reduces its likelihood.
The deal — known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) — is months in the making and was spearheaded by the UN along with Turkey, which played a key role in securing mutual cooperation between Russia and Ukraine.
The arrangement will be overseen by a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) established in Istanbul, where representatives from the UN and all three participating governments will monitor progress and ensure that the negotiated rules are respected.
The World Food Programme is already getting ready to load another vessel with 30,000 tonnes of grain, and many more vessels will be underway if things go according to the plan.
Just clearing Ukraine’s backlog of grain will take months, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). While the country’s overall exporting capacity will be much less than previous years, it’s still enough to provide a crucial lifeline to countries facing food shortages. It will also provide a financial boost to Ukraine’s ailing agricultural sector, the WSJ notes, which will allow farmers to buy the necessary supplies for next year’s harvest.
If the BSGI proves effective, it could provide a template for broader ceasefires relating to food distribution, shielding larger swaths of the country from the ravages of war, and even paving a way toward an end to this brutal conflict.
“[The war] must end, and peace must be established, in line with the Charter of the United Nations and international law,” Guterres said. "I hope today’s news can be a step towards that goal, for the people of Ukraine and the Russian Federation, and for the world."