Famine warning: Why Turkey could be key to solving Russia crisis over wheat shortages

Russian UN envoy walks out during food crisis discussion

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Together Ukraine and Russia supply around a third of the world’s wheat stocks. Wheat is a key component for everyday foods such as bread, pasta and cereals, and the UK – along with many other countries – is already starting to feel the pinch from shortages.

Before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine it had exported the majority of its supplies via its ports.

But with Mariupol reduced to rubble, while other trade centres such as Odesa are cut off from the wider world, the country is struggling to get it’s goods out onto the Black Sea – Ukraine’s sole naval route and one now controlled by Russian forces.

Ukraine has often been described as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’, and the loss of its trade has led to warnings of an impending global food crisis.

Experts have said such an event could be particularly painful for Africa and the Middle East.

But in an effort to alleviate fears Turkey has emerged as a potential third party to help trade resume.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting with officials in Ankara, on Wednesday, where it’s thought talks on a deal are close to a breakthrough.

Ukraine has prepared for attacks on Odesa by laying naval mines in and around its harbour, which would prevent ships from trading.

However, Turkey is considering offering its help in de-mining the waters, in an agreement with President Putin who would commit not to use designated trade routes to attack the city.

Officials in Kyiv have reacted sceptically to the news and are refusing to accept the word of Russia’s President, however.

Earlier this week, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “This is the same Putin who told German Chancellor [Olaf] Scholz and French President [Emmanuel] Macron he would not attack Ukraine – days before launching a full-scale invasion of our country. We cannot trust Putin, his words are empty.”

The Government said on Tuesday that it would reject any agreements “that do not take into account the interest of Ukraine”.

Talks of a resolution have also raised suspicion in the US, where one official told Politico that the deal resembles “extortion diplomacy”.

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How could a food crisis affect the UK?

A lack of supplies coupled with rising inflation has pushed the price of wheat based products to unprecedented levels.

For example, the price of a loaf of white bread has increased by 5.5 percent since the start of 2022, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Other foods at risk of shortages include various types of British reared meat.

Ukraine and Russia are the fourth and fifth biggest exporters of corn and maize globally – a common staple used to feed livestock.

Removing their supplies from the market could create problems for the meat production process and, in turn, lead to shortages or price hikes.

A lack of key ingredients could also lead to problems with the production of a British favourite – fish and chips.

Restaurants and takeaways rely heavily on supplies of sunflower oil, fish, flour and fertiliser – which is used to grow potatoes – from Moscow.

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