Russia's war on Ukraine creating 'extremely dire situation' for availability of food worldwide

The blockade of the port of Odesa is preventing vital grain supplies from reaching the outside world, leading to shortages and increased global prices. Words by ITV News Producer Natasha Tierney and video report by Europe Editor James Mates

The world is facing "an extremely dire situation".

That's the stark warning from the World Food Programme, as they urgently expand their operations across the so-called "bread basket of Europe". 

Not only are they in Ukraine supporting the millions of people whose lives have been disrupted by this war, but also to help solve one the of the world's most critical problems - a man-made global food crisis.

Ukraine provides roughly 10% of the world's wheat exports, and more than half of its sunflower oil, with around 400 million people across every continent relying on its produce. 

The war in Ukraine is creating a "dire situation" for the world's food availability, says World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Emergency Co-ordinator Matthew Dee in Odesa

That's something Vladimir Putin knows only too well, and since the war began, Russia has been attacking grain silos and farmers' fields, seizing Ukrainian farmland, and - most disruptively of all - blockading the vital ports of the Black Sea.

Over the past four months, Ukrainian grain exports have decreased by more than two-thirds, and agricultural storage capacity is down to a quarter of what it once was. 

Farmer Volodomyr Verbanets, who lives outside the port city of Odesa, should be preparing his own warehouse for this year's harvest.

Instead, it's full of last year's stock, some of it already starting to spoil.

Farmer Volodomyr Verbanets' barn is still filled with last year's crop. Credit: ITV News

At best he says he might get half the price for it that he did last time - by no means adequate given skyrocketing fuel costs - but he's not optimistic even for that, unless the world finds a way to open the ports. 

With the sea surrounding Odesa now filled with mines, and Putin standing firm that he will lift the blockade only if Western sanctions on Russia are eased, leaders around the world are scrambling to provide alternative solutions to store this year's crop on the Ukrainian border, and export at least some of the grain by truck or railway. 

But aside from issues of quantity - it would take around a million trucks to export all the produce currently waiting to leave Ukraine -  for areas close to the frontline, even land exports are unrealistic.

"Nobody wants to go to our region by truck because it's too dangerous, the drivers just don't want to come," explains Vitaliy Kim, the governor of Mykolaiv.

Vitaliy Kim, the governor of Mykolaiv, says the situation is son dangerous that lorry drivers do not want to enter the area. Credit: ITV News

What help do they need?

"Brave drivers," he says.

But not just drivers. Farmers in his region, like Volodomyr Onyschuk, also face safety concerns for the workers who are about to plough the fields. 

"Firstly, there's an air threat, so no one is safe unfortunately, as we are still being shelled.

"The other issue is unexploded munitions in the field - we've collected many of those already too," he tells us, showing photos of Russian ordnance found on his land. 

The war in Ukraine is pushing up food prices globally, says WFP Deputy Emergency Co-ordinator Matthew Dee in Odesa, leaving many people unable to afford to eat

For farmers like Volodomyr though, this year's harvest is worth every risk, and not just for Ukraine.

"If we don't get enough money for this year's crop, then no one will be able to plant next year's" he explains.

"This will cause serious issues in the world, like famine in Asia and Africa."

"This is also a kind of frontline", he adds.

"We know that we are doing something important when we decide to go into the fields and work under these circumstances."

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