The Biden administration is working closely with European allies to try to develop routes to get Ukrainian wheat and corn out of the country after Russia blocked Ukrainian ships from departing with grain that is vital for food supplies around the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.
There is no silver bullet to solve the complicated challenge and officials are considering a wide array of options to get the food exports safely out by rail, sea and air, two US diplomats and four European diplomats told CNN. Possible scenarios are being studied and devised whether Russia consents or not.
The challenge will be a major focus for US Secretary of State Tony Blinken when he convenes a ministerial meeting on food security and chairs a discussion on the matter at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday and Thursday, the diplomats said.
"This is far from a done deal, there are so many moving pieces, so many things could go wrong with these discussions," another official familiar with the discussions said.
Amid concerns about a global food shortage, urgency around the effort is growing as prices for wheat, grain, corn, soybeans and vegetable oil have soared in recent weeks due to Russia's invasion. However, there is no simple solution available with major obstacles to all modes of transport as the war shows no sign of letting up.
Time is of the essence: Ukraine is set to run out of storage facilities for agricultural products in the next two months, explained an official from the World Food Program. If there is no movement in the coming months Ukrainian farmers will have no place to store next seasons' crop and they will be not paid enough to sustain their businesses.
Before the war, wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine accounted for almost 30% of global trade, and Ukraine is the world's fourth largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat, according to the US State Department. The United Nations World Food Program — which helps combat global food insecurity — buys about half of its wheat from Ukraine each year and has warned of dire consequences if the Ukrainian ports are not opened up.
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