Russia has donated 260,000 metric tons of fertilizer it produced that was sitting in European ports and warehouses for use by farmers in Africa, the United Nations said Tuesday.

“This will serve to alleviate humanitarian needs and prevent catastrophic crop loss in Africa, where it is currently planting season,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, welcoming the announcement.

He said a ship chartered by the World Food Program left the Netherlands on Tuesday carrying 20,000 tons of the fertilizer destined for the southeastern African nation of Malawi. Dujarric said it would take about a month to reach Beira, in Mozambique, and then would be transported overland to Malawi, which is a landlocked country.

“It will be the first of a series of shipments of fertilizer destined for a number of other countries on the African continent in the coming months,” Dujarric added.

Fertilizer crunch

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, world fertilizer prices, which were already inflated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, surged further, in part due to quotas Moscow imposed on its fertilizer exports, saying it wanted enough for its own farmers.

The U.N. said fertilizer prices have risen a staggering 250% since before the pandemic in 2019.

Russia is a top global fertilizer exporter. The disruptions, shortages and price increases that its quotas have contributed to have made fertilizer unaffordable for some smaller farmers. This could dramatically decrease their harvests, which could potentially lead to food shortages next year.

The World Food Program’s chief economist told VOA that developed and developing countries are dependent on fertilizer for half of their food production.

“Right now, with all that is happening, we are looking at essentially a shortfall of about 66 million tons of staple foods because of shortage of or unaffordability of fertilizer,” Arif Husain said. “I am talking about crops like wheat, corn, rice. Now, that 66 million tons of food, that is enough to feed 3.6 billion people for one month.”

Russia has complained that Western sanctions are to blame for its decrease in fertilizer exports. But Western nations repeatedly stress that they do not sanction food or fertilizer products from Russia.

But some shippers, banks, insurers and other companies involved in the transport or purchase of Russian grain and fertilizer have been reluctant to do business with Moscow, fearing they could run afoul of the sanctions.

Diplomacy continues

A package deal signed in Istanbul on July 22 has made it possible for more than 12 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain to get to market from three of its Black Sea ports, while working to build confidence with the private sector in order to return to pre-invasion export levels of Russian fertilizers and grain.

“The U.N. is continuing intense diplomatic efforts with all parties to ensure the unimpeded exports of critical food and fertilizers from both the Russian Federation and Ukraine, that are exempt from sanction regimes, to the world markets,” Dujarric told reporters.

The deal, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, was renewed on November 17 for an additional four months.

Source: Voice of America