Ukraine’s Black Sea grain export success tested by Red Sea crisis

Ukraine’s Black Sea grain export success tested by Red Sea crisis
Ukraine has managed to boost its Black Sea grain exports to a level not seen since before Russia's invasion, although the Red Sea shipping crisis poses a new challenge to its crucial agricultural trade. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 24 January 2024
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Ukraine’s Black Sea grain export success tested by Red Sea crisis

Ukraine’s Black Sea grain export success tested by Red Sea crisis
  • The export turnaround helped Ukraine’s economy to steady last year and further tamed global food prices
  • Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine exported about 6 million tons of food monthly via the Black Sea

PARIS/KYIV: Ukraine has managed to boost its Black Sea grain exports to a level not seen since before Russia’s invasion, although the Red Sea shipping crisis poses a new challenge to its crucial agricultural trade.
Kyiv’s success in replacing a UN-backed Black Sea export deal with its own shipping scheme has brought relief for Ukrainian farmers and importing countries while representing a naval breakthrough for Ukraine’s military as a land counteroffensive has stalled.
The export turnaround helped Ukraine’s economy to steady last year and further tamed global food prices after Russia’s invasion in February 2022 drove them to record highs.
Kyiv shipped around 4.8 million metric tons of foodstuffs in December, mostly grain, from its Black Sea ports, surpassing for the first time volumes achieved under the previous UN-sponsored corridor. Moscow quit that deal last July saying commitments to safeguard its own exports were not being respected.
Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine exported about 6 million tons of food monthly via the Black Sea.
“The alternative Black Sea export corridor from Ukraine has definitely been a positive signal for the agricultural industry,” Svetlana Malysh, senior Black Sea agriculture analyst at LSEG, said, adding: “There are lot of concerns related to the situation in the Red Sea.”
Ukrainian grain exports by sea in January could drop by around 20 percent compared with last month, a senior Ukrainian official said last week, mostly because of the Red Sea crisis.
Strikes on shipping in the Red Sea by the Iran-aligned Houthis who control much of Yemen have stymied trade between Europe and Asia. The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza. Their actions have prompted US and British air strikes against Houthi targets.
Passage through the Red Sea is very important for Ukraine as almost a third of its exports via the Black Sea corridor are sent to China.
Under its new export scheme, Ukraine is also supplying grain to Pakistan for the first time since Russia’s invasion, said Alexander Karavaytsev, senior economist at the International Grains Council.
Grain ships are increasingly being diverted away from the Suez Canal-Red Sea route, according to analysts and traders.
“The Red Sea situation is likely to hamper long-haul shipments from Ukraine,” Karavaytsev said.

BETTER THAN BEFORE
Ukrainian Black Sea food exports remain substantial. Over January 1-19, about 1.9 million tons were shipped via sea ports and another 1.7 million tons are still scheduled for January, said Spike Brokers, which tracks and publishes export statistics.
Ukrainian producers have welcomed the sea route as an improvement on both makeshift routes via the European Union and the UN-sponsored corridor, under which protracted cargo inspections with Russia drove up vessel charges.
“Since the invasion, now is the best time for farmers in terms of logistics,” said Dmitry Skornyakov, CEO of Ukrainian farm operator HarvEast.
Easing shipping costs have allowed depressed domestic prices in Ukraine to rise. Corn export prices have gained around $30 per ton since the start of the new corridor, while the cost of a medium-sized bulk vessel from Odesa to Spain has fallen by a similar amount, according to LSEG data.
Ukraine hopes to cement the role of its Black Sea corridor, which currently serves three ports in the Odesa region, by winning recognition from the UN’s International Maritime Organization, which could send a mission in February.
That could help ease worries about Russia’s military threat at sea.

EXPORT ROUTES
Ukrainian officials cite effective use of drones against Russian navy ships and the recapturing of an island near the Danube delta as allowing Kyiv to establish the route that hugs the Black Sea coast from Odesa down through Romanian and Bulgarian waters.
Kyiv now wants to re-open the port of Mykolaiv further east while maintaining transhipment via the Danube, Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuriy Vaskov told Reuters.
Ukraine sees potential to raise total cargo shipments, including metallurgical products, from Black Sea and Danube ports to 8 million tons per month, against more than 7 million in December, he said.
Security for Ukrainian exports remains fragile as Russia intermittently strikes ports while the Black Sea is littered with mines.
If disruption to the Red Sea route to Asia persists, a fresh influx of cheaper Ukrainian grain in the EU may also deepen discontent among farmers in eastern member states such as Poland who have been staging protests.
But with Russia seen unlikely to actively target a food supply route serving countries that have not taken sides in the war, and with buyers lured by competitive Ukrainian prices, the sea corridor is expected to retain a sizeable role in global grain trade.
“In my view overall shipments by sea from Ukraine will continue to expand,” a European trader said, noting Ukrainian corn was sold to China last week despite Red Sea risks.


Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 

Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 
Updated 5 sec ago
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Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 

Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 
  • Estimated 2.9 million Afghan children under five years of age to suffer acute malnutrition in 2024, says Save The Children 
  • Afghanistan reels from immediate impacts of flood, long-term effects of drought and return of refugees from Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: About 6.5 million children in Afghanistan were forecast to experience crisis levels of hunger in 2024, a nongovernmental organization said.

Nearly three out of 10 Afghan children will face crisis or emergency levels of hunger this year as the country feels the immediate impacts of floods, the long-term effects of drought, and the return of Afghans from neighboring Pakistan and Iran, according to a report released late Tuesday by Save The Children.

New figures from global hunger monitoring body Integrated Food Security Phase Classification forecast that 28 percent of Afghanistan’s population, about 12.4 million people, will face acute food insecurity before October. Of those, nearly 2.4 million are predicted to experience emergency levels of hunger, which is one level above famine, according to Save the Children.

The figures show a slight improvement from the last report, released in October 2023, but underline the continuing need for assistance, with poverty affecting half of the population.

Torrential rain and flash floods hit northern Afghanistan in May, killing more than 400 people. Thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged and farmland was turned into mud.

Save the Children is operating a “clinic on wheels” in Baghlan province, which was hit the worst by floods, as part of its emergency response program. The organization added that an estimated 2.9 million children under the age of 5 are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2024.

Arshad Malik, country director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, said that the NGO has treated more than 7,000 children for severe or acute malnutrition so far this year.

“Those numbers are a sign of the massive need for continuing support for families as they experience shock after shock,” Malik said. 

Children are feeling the devastating impacts of three years of drought, high levels of unemployment, and the return of more than 1.4 million Afghans from Pakistan and Iran, he added.

“We need long-term, community-based solutions to help families rebuild their lives,” Malik said.

More than 557,000 Afghans have returned from Pakistan since September 2023, after Pakistan began cracking down on foreigners it alleges are in the country illegally, including 1.7 million Afghans. It insists the campaign isn’t directed against Afghans specifically, but they make up most of the foreigners in the South Asian country.

In April, Save the Children said that a quarter-million Afghan children need education, food and homes after being forcibly returned from Pakistan.

Malik added that only 16 percent of funding for the 2024 humanitarian response plan has been met so far, but nearly half the population needs assistance.

“This is not the time for the world to look away,” he said.

Meanwhile, the European Union is allocating an additional 10 million euros (nearly $10.9 million) to the UN food agency for school feeding activities in Afghanistan. These latest funds from the EU follow an earlier contribution of 20.9 million euros ($22.7 million) toward the World Food Program’s school meal program in Afghanistan for 2022 and 2023.

The funding comes at a timely moment and averts WFP having to downsize its school meal program this year because of a lack of funding, the WFP said in a statement.

“Hunger can be a barrier to education. The additional EU funding to our long-standing partner WFP ensures that more children in Afghanistan receive nutritious food,” said Raffaella Iodice, chargé d’affaires of the EU’s delegation to Afghanistan.

The WFP’s statement said that the agency will be able to use the funding to distribute fortified biscuits or locally produced nutritious school snacks to pupils in more than 10,000 schools in the eight provinces of Farah, Ghor, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Uruzgan and Zabul.

Last year, WFP supported 1.5 million school-age children through this program.


Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’

Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’
Updated 36 min 45 sec ago
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Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’

Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’
  • The Ukrainian citizen, identified as Oleksandr D., was arrested in early March
  • He is suspected of having “encouraged a Polish citizen to participate in foreign intelligence activity against Poland“

WARSAW: Poland’s security services on Wednesday said a 26-year-old Ukrainian man had been charged with provocation and incitement to espionage against the NATO member.
In recent months Poland, a staunch Ukraine supporter, has seen several sabotage plots on its territory that it has blamed on neighboring Russia.
The Ukrainian citizen, identified as Oleksandr D., was arrested in early March and is suspected of having “encouraged a Polish citizen to participate in foreign intelligence activity against Poland,” security services spokesman Jacek Dobrzynski said in a statement.
“This activity was to consist of sharing photos of military vehicles that were intended for aiding Ukraine and which were crossing the border between Poland and Ukraine,” he added.
In exchange for information, the Polish man was to receive a payment of 15,000 euros ($16,000), Dobrzynski said, without specifying if he had accepted the offer.
Oleksandr D. was charged on Tuesday and faces at least eight years in prison if found guilty.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said previously that several attempts at diversion, sabotage and arson had been undertaken in Poland on behalf of Russia over the past few months.
These acts “were fortunately averted thanks to the vigilance of our services and allies,” Tusk said in mid-May.
He also said that Poland would reinforce its intelligence services amid the sabotage attempts and concerns over Russia.
A loyal ally of Kyiv’s, Poland is a main country through which Western nations are transferring weapons and munitions to Ukraine to help in the fight against Russia.


Volcano in Iceland erupts again

Volcano in Iceland erupts again
Updated 29 May 2024
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Volcano in Iceland erupts again

Volcano in Iceland erupts again
  • Authorities had warned of the risk of renewed volcanic activity in the area just south of the capital Reykjavik

COPENHAGEN: A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted on Wednesday, live video from the area showed, making it the fifth outbreak since December.
The new outburst happened as another eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula recently ended after spewing fountains of molten rock for almost eight weeks.
Authorities had warned of the risk of renewed volcanic activity in the area just south of the capital Reykjavik as studies showed magma accumulated underground.
The fiery spectacle underlines the challenges the island nation of almost 400,000 people face as scientists have warned eruptions could happen over and over in Reykjanes for decades or even centuries.
The eruption was the eighth on the peninsula, home to some 30,000 people, since 2021 when geological systems that were dormant for some 800 years again became active.
Previous incidents had disrupted district heating, closed key roads and even razed several houses in the Grindavik fishing town, where only a few residents have since returned.
In an attempt to prevent further damage man-made barriers have been built to steer lava away from infrastructure including the Svartsengi geothermal power plant, the Blue Lagoon outdoor spa and Grindavik.
Icelanders often refer to their country as the “Land of Fire and Ice” as a tribute to its otherworldly landscape forged by glaciers and volcanoes which is positioned between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, making it a seismic hotbed.
While a 2010 eruption in a different part of Iceland grounded some 100,000 flights internationally due to huge ash clouds, Reykjanes is typically home to fissure outbreaks which do not reach into the stratosphere.


Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island
Updated 29 May 2024
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Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island
  • Known for its beaches and coral reefs, Boracay is one of the world’s most famous islands
  • Philippines wants to grow its Muslim-friendly and halal tourism portfolio, tourism secretary says

MANILA: The Philippines is developing halal-friendly options in its top resort island of Boracay to attract more Muslim visitors, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said on Wednesday.

Located in the province of Aklan, in the center of the Philippine archipelago, Boracay is known for its white sand beaches and coral reefs that make it one of the world’s most famous islands.

Tourism is a key sector for the Philippines, and its Department of Tourism has lately been trying to attract more Muslim visitors, particularly by ensuring that they have access to halal products and services.

“Muslim-friendly and halal tourism is a portfolio that we wish to grow,” Frasco told reporters.

“We are now in talks with a Boracay local government unit, as well as the Department of Tourism, to … offer halal-friendly tourism in Boracay.”

 

 

The predominantly Catholic Philippines — where Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the nearly 120 million population — welcomed more than 2 million international travelers since the beginning of the year and marked a 10 percent increase in visitors arriving from Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have been among the Philippine government’s key emerging-market targets.

The Philippines was recognized with the Emerging Muslim-friendly Destination of the Year award in 2023 at the Halal in Travel Global Summit in Singapore. Since then, the Muslim market has been its priority.

Earlier this month, the Department of Tourism led a delegation to the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where it promoted the country’s best destinations.

“When we attended the Arabian Travel Market … we signed a memorandum of understanding with Megaworld such that all their properties will be converted into Muslim-friendly and halal-friendly tourism establishments,” Frasco said, referring to one of the largest Philippine hospitality chains.

“What we expect is really to be able to tap into this billion-dollar industry that is halal and Muslim-friendly tourism.”


Dutch police say they’re homing in on robbers responsible for multimillion-dollar jewelry heist

Dutch police say they’re homing in on robbers responsible for multimillion-dollar jewelry heist
Updated 29 May 2024
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Dutch police say they’re homing in on robbers responsible for multimillion-dollar jewelry heist

Dutch police say they’re homing in on robbers responsible for multimillion-dollar jewelry heist
  • Police said they now have narrowed down the location of the robbers, who they previously said came from the Balkans
  • The investigation team also said that a diamond taken from a necklace that was stolen in the robbery had been found in Israel and another in Hong Kong

THE HAGUE: An international investigation is homing in on a gang of robbers believed to be responsible for a brazen multimillion-dollar jewelry heist at an art show in the Netherlands and two stolen gemstones have been recovered, Dutch police said Wednesday.
Smartly dressed robbers wielding sledge hammers snatched jewelry from display cases at an international art fair in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht nearly two years ago, triggering an international police operation to hunt them down and recover the loot that police say is worth tens of millions of dollars.
In their latest update on the progress of the investigation, police in the southern Dutch province of Limburg said they now have narrowed down the location of the robbers, who they previously said came from the Balkans.
“It is now clear that this concerns Serbia, more specifically the town of Nis. It cannot be ruled out that the suspects are currently staying there, but possibly also in Belgrade or the surrounding area,” police said in a statement.
The investigation team also said that a diamond taken from a necklace that was stolen in the robbery had been found in Israel and another in Hong Kong. Police last year reported the discovery of one of the diamonds, but at the time gave no further details.
“Both diamonds have been seized for examination,” police said in Wednesday’s statement, without giving details of when the stones were recovered.
Police had previously revealed that they were hunting for four men and said Wednesday that a woman also is a suspect in the heist.
Two more women are under investigation for allegedly returning a rental car to a company near the airport in the German city of Frankfurt. The two women are “at the moment, not suspects in the investigation into the robbery,” police said.