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In March this year, I travelled to Mombasa, Kenya, to see for myself the first ship carrying 30,000 tonnes of Ukrainian grain to the people of that East African country, impacted by an unprecedented drought in some of its northern counties. The ceremony was chaired by the Deputy President of Kenya, Rigathi Gachagua, surrounded by cabinet ministers, high-level government officials, diplomats from donor countries and thousands of Kenyan citizens.  As Deputy President Gachagua received the cargo , he thanked President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy and his #GrainfromUkraine initiative under which the delivery was made.

During my visit, I had an opportunity to meet and listen to Kenyans from all walks of life. I heard many of their personal stories – some of them tragic and shocking. Stories that tell us the human cost of hunger:  Youngsters forced to leave school to work, earn money and feed themselves and their families. Parents skipping meals despite working around the clock, so their children could eat.  Mothers unable to breastfeed their babies, their bodies too lacking in sustenance to produce milk.  Frail elderly people left alone for days while their relatives travelled miles from home to find food.

The broader picture into countries impacted by conflict such as Ethiopia, Somalia and now Sudan, is even more terrifying. Today, a fifth of the African population is undernourished, and 55 million children under five are stunted due to severe malnutrition. Recently, more than 20 million more people have been pushed into extreme hunger – equivalent to the entire population of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe combined — and the United Nations declared food security a global priority.

In Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Somalia, communities face the worst food crisis in 40 years. In Somalia alone, 4.3 million people are expected to face greater food insecurity between October and December this year.

A major contributor to these devastating ripples is the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. When Russia launched its illegal invasion in February 2022, its navy blockaded Ukraine’s  Black Sea port, trapping more than 20 million tons of grain meant for export.    Many countries felt the immediate negative consequences of that blockade, such as Yemen which paid a devastating price as wheat is a crucial part of the country’s diet, and approximately 40% of its grain was imported from Ukraine. But Ukraine could not export to Yemen anymore.

To continue Ukraine’s commitment to act responsibly and help countries in Africa and the global South more broadly in a time of dire need, President Zelenskyy launched the “Grain from Ukraine” (GfU) humanitarian programme in partnership with the UN World Food Programme, in November 2022. Its goal is to ensure the safe transportation of grain through Ukrainian ports and delivery to countries in need, to tackle global famine and food insecurity.

As part of the GfU initiative, 170K tons of Ukrainian grain have been delivered to Yemen and the African countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Thousands more were planned to be delivered, but that was not to be.

Russia’s repeated air strikes on Ukrainian ports including Odesa, Reni, and Izmail, and destruction of hundreds of thousands of stocked grain supplies have disrupted these plans.

For African countries grappling with multiple challenges, food insecurity could be the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back.’  We don’t want family structures to fall apart in Africa. We don’t want children to be forced out of school to take on the responsibility of feeding their families. African children have the right to be breastfed by their mothers, and their mothers have the right to nutritious food.  We need to guarantee food security so Africans can focus on other development priorities that would allow this continent of 1.2 billion inhabitants with tremendous human and natural resources and potential to make a meaningful contribution to global peace, security, and development.

Weaponising food is one of the starkest disregards of international humanitarian law.Global leaders will convene on October 16, to mark World Food Day. They must act with courage and vision against the Russian war on Ukraine and its repercussions on other continents across the globe. Ukraine is determined to continue its humanitarian endeavors despite its own herculean challenges.  The world must speak with one voice to condemn Russian attacks on grain ports and grain stocks, on humanitarian programmes and on our children’s future.

Author: Dr Christopher Fomunyoh – Goodwill Ambassador #GrainFromUkraine initiative

Date of publication: October 16, 2023