With Ukrainian ports blocked, trains in Europe carry grain

A Ukrainian and Austrian flag is painted on a freight train carrying fodder corn from Ukraine in Vienna, Austria, Friday, May 6, 2022. (Theresa Wey/AP)

VIENNA – A train carrying 2,000 tonnes of Ukrainian maize arrived in Austria on Friday, part of European efforts to evade a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports that has prevented critical supplies of wheat, maize and other grains from reaching African and Middle Eastern countries. and parts of Asia.

Standing in front of a wagon adorned with Austrian and Ukrainian flags, Austrian Agriculture Minister Elisabeth Koestinger said the expedition marked the establishment of a “green corridor” for large shipments of goods between the two countries .

“Exports of grain and animal feed cannot leave Ukraine by sea. That is why we are creating green corridors,” Koestinger said.

The shipment comes amid a wider struggle to deal with global food supply disruptions triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the two countries being two of the world’s largest suppliers of wheat, d barley and sunflower oil. Russia is also a major exporter of fertilizers that farmers need to grow their crops.

The potential loss of affordable grain supplies that millions of people around the world rely on for cheap bread and noodles has increased the risk of food shortages and political instability in countries where many people already had no not enough to eat. With food prices already skyrocketing, the high cost of fertilizers and cooking oils is further compressing the global food chain.

To help ease the crisis slightly, the trains will transport up to 60,000 metric tons of grain from Ukraine to Austria each month, adding to similar shipments to Germany. These exports bypass the Russian blockade of Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, on the Black Sea.

Ukrainian Ambassador to Austria Vasyl Khymynets called the new land route an important symbol of Ukraine’s cooperation with its partners.

“We are looking for ways to supply the world with food,” he said.

Khymynets said 600,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grain could potentially be exported each month via various land routes – just a fraction of Ukraine’s export capacity of 25 million tons.

The first Austrian shipment was purchased by a feed producer from that country. Subsequent shipments were to find their way to the “global south”, Koestinger said, with Ukrainian food supplies in demand in central Africa.

The corn load left Ternopil province in western Ukraine and Austrian railways picked it up in the Slovakian border town of Cierna.

Other countries have also started setting up their own “green corridor” routes, Koestinger said. These overland routes were used during the war to help civilians trying to flee the fighting.

Austrian railways already transport Ukrainian goods to northern Germany three times a week via Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland on trains that can carry up to 2,000 metric tons.

Now it will increase frequency with daily trains to Brake, Germany, near Bremen, where a port specializes in shipping animal feed and grain.

The Austrian government estimates that due to the war, crop losses could reach 30-50% compared to pre-war production.

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