Food Crisis Deepens as Europe’s Bread Basket Comes Under Attack

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A bad situation took a turn for the worse when Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal and began targeting Ukraine’s food export facilities.

A major grower and exporter of grain and oilseeds, Ukraine’s agriculture industry was already facing significant challenges due to the collapse of the Kakhovka Dam in early June. 

At stake is not only a vital sector for Ukraine’s economy, but a badly needed source of calories for many people around the world.

In this article, we examine the impact of the dam’s destruction on the vast irrigation system that is used to distribute water to large tracts of agricultural land across southern Ukraine.

An intricate canal network runs from the Kakhovka Reservoir to southern Ukraine.

The dam collapse will cut off water supply to 31 irrigation systems in the regions of Dnipro, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia totalling 584,000 hectares, according to Ukraine’s agriculture ministry.

The concern is that reduced water levels will significantly decrease yields for wheat, sunflower and barley grown in these regions. 

Using satellite imagery, we can capture the impact of the Kakhovka Dam’s collapse on water levels in the area. 

The area downriver experienced significant flooding in the immediate aftermath.

The situation was so severe on the Dnipro River that it caused flooding on one of its tributaries, the Inhulets River.  

But the situation upriver from the dam faced the opposite extreme.

Land is now visible in rivers and reservoirs that were submerged prior to the dam collapse.

You can also see the dry riverbed appearing at points of intersection with several major canals.

This underscores the lack of water that will be available for irrigation purposes for the foreseeable future.

Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said that the Kakhovka Dam would have to be restored to repair the irrigation system, and until that happens there would be no water available for farming in the region. 

There is approximately twice as much non-irrigated land as irrigated land. However, farmers use the money from irrigated land to fund the cultivation of non-irrigated land, so the outlook for future harvests is dire across-the-board.

At least grain in storage could reach international markets under the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Or so that was the case until the next round of developments that took aim at Ukraine’s ability to distribute food in the present.

On July 17, the grain deal expired when Russia refused to negotiate and renew the agreement, which had allowed cargo ships to sail along a corridor and effectively allowed the export of millions of tons of grain. 

Next came a series of strikes by Russian forces on seaports in the Odesa region. 

Ukraine has utilized an alternative overland route to Romania. However, that route was then targeted when grain warehouses were destroyed in the port city of Reni, an important transit hub across the Danube River from Romania.  

“Without the Black Sea corridor and now with attacks on alternative routes, it will be hard to take Ukrainian grains out of the country,” a trader said.

Who will be hurt the most? Under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, some 57% of the food exported went to developing countries, according to the UN’s Joint Coordination Center. 

In a future article, we will take a deeper look at the impact on developing countries using satellite imagery analytics.

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