Ship heads to Ukraine to get grain for Africa

Wheat being processed in Odessa, Ukraine, on June 17, 2022 . While the Ukrainian government and several international leaders seek alternative methods to convey thousands of tons of grain stock from the "blocked" Odessa Port to European countries , Ukrainian farmers seek new ways to market the crops that remain in their warehouses. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Wheat being processed in Odesa, Ukraine, on June 17, 2022./Getty Images

A ship approached Ukraine on Friday to pick up wheat for hungry people in Ethiopia, in the first food delivery to Africa under a U.N.-brokered plan to unblock grain trapped by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and bring relief to some of the millions worldwide on the brink of starvation.

For months, the conflict and a Russian blockade meant grain produced in Ukraine piled up in silos, sending food prices sky-high and leading to hunger in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

In recent days, several ships carrying grain have left Ukrainian ports under the new deal — but most of the shipments were of animal feed and went to Turkey or Western Europe.

But on Friday, European Council President Charles Michel announced that the first World Food Program transport of humanitarian aid for Africa would soon load and then depart. In the afternoon, MarineTraffic, a tracking website, showed the ship headed toward southern Ukraine.

Michel said the ship would bring grain to Ethiopia, saying “cooperation of all involved actors is key” to alleviating food shortages and hunger around the world. The Brave Commander was expected to carry take more than 23,000 metric tons, according to Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry — only a tiny portion of some 20 million tons of grain that has languished in Ukraine. The ship was expected to dock in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.

Ethiopia, along with neighboring Somalia and Kenya, is in the grips of the driest drought in four decades in the Horn of Africa.

Thousands of people across the region have died from hunger or illness this year. Forecasts for the coming weeks indicate that for the first time, a fifth straight rainy season will fail to materialize. Millions of livestock, the basis of many families’ wealth and food security, have died.

“Millions of households will struggle to cope with these shocks” in Ethiopia, according to a new assessment by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. “Food assistance needs are at record levels, with up to 15 million people in need of food assistance.”

While one shipment won’t have any major effect on the crisis, the World Food Program still heralded it as an “important step” in getting Ukrainian grain out of the country to the worst-affected countries.