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UKRAINE

German minister calls Russian grain theft in Ukraine ‘repugnant’

Germany's agriculture minister on Friday criticised grain theft by Russia in eastern Ukraine, as G7 countries met to discuss the impact of the war on the global food supply. 

Germany's Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Ozdemir (R) and Ukraine's Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Mykola Solskyi (L) give a press statement in front of Schloss Hohenheim palace, venue of the G7 Agriculture ministers' meeting in Stuttgart, southern Germany, on May 13th.
Germany's Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Oezdemir (R) and Ukraine's Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Mykola Solskyi (L) give a press statement in front of Schloss Hohenheim palace, venue of the G7 Agriculture ministers' meeting in Stuttgart, southern Germany, on May 13th. Photo: Thomas NIEDERMÜLLER / AFP

“This is an especially repugnant form of war that Russia is leading,” Cem Oezdemir said at the start of a meeting in Stuttgart with colleagues from G7 countries, Ukraine, the European Union, the OECD and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

Russia was “stealing, robbing, taking for itself grain from eastern Ukraine,” Oezdemir said, describing it as an “economic war”.

Before the invasion, Ukraine was seen as the world’s bread basket, exporting 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports – 12 percent of the planet’s wheat, 15 percent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.

READ ALSO: Why are people in Germany clearing out supermarket shelves? 

But with the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can only travel on congested land routes that are much less efficient.

“Ukraine is in a very difficult situation with regard to grain exports,” agriculture minister Mykola Solsky said ahead of the meeting.

The Russian occupation in the fertile eastern regions of the country would also have an impact on this year’s crop.

“We cannot get away from the fact that the harvest will be smaller than last year,” Solsky said.

Discussions had already begun on how to transport more grain out of Ukraine “over land, by train and along the Danube”, which flows from Germany to Ukraine, to “rescue” the produce stuck in the country, Oezdemir said.

Russia ‘responsible for global food supply crunch’

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that Moscow bore a “responsibility” for disruptions in the global food supply due to its invasion of Ukraine.

“The chancellor and the Russian president also spoke about the global food situation which is particularly strained due to Russia’s war of aggression,” Scholz’s office said in a statement after a 75-minute call between the leaders.

 “The chancellor reminded him that Russia bears a particular responsibility here.”

Scholz said the conversation with Putin Friday morning, following a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, was focused on “the war in Ukraine and efforts to end it”.

He urged Putin “given the gravity of the military situation and the consequences of the war in Ukraine, especially in Mariupol” to bring about a “ceasefire as soon as possible to improve the humanitarian situation and make progress in the search for a diplomatic solution to the conflict”.

Scholz also “firmly rejected” Moscow’s accusation “that Nazism is widespread in Ukraine”.

The question of food security was already on the agenda for the G7 meeting of foreign ministers, which began Thursday in the northern German resort of Wangels.

“We as the strongest industrialised democracies have a special responsibility” to help poorer nations weather the food and energy squeezes caused by the war, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.

The other members of the group are Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States.

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UKRAINE

Russian gas stop will spark ‘food price hikes and supply issues’ in Germany

Germany could see its supplies of vegetables and other food products affected in the event that Russia turns off the gas taps - but the overall supply will remain secure, the Agriculture Minister has said.

Russian gas stop will spark 'food price hikes and supply issues' in Germany

Cem Özdemir made the comments in a response to a parliamentary question by the CDU/CSU on whether the country was prepared for a sudden halt in gas deliveries from Russia.

“Many companies in the agricultural and food industry are absolutely dependent on the supply of gas in order to be able to produce food or animal feed,” according to the statement by Özdemir, which was obtained by the Rheinische Post newspaper.

“In the event of a halt in natural gas supplies from Russia, further price increases as well as bottlenecks in the supply of individual foodstuffs are to be expected.”

According to Özdemir, gas supply issues would mainly affect crops of vegetables, which could include things like aubergines, cucumbers and peppers. The supply of house and balcony plants grown in greenhouses could also be affected. 

However, there could also be an impact on other agricultural businesses such as dairy and meat farms, as well as mills and bakeries.

Overall food supply ‘secure’ 

In recent months, supermarkets in Germany have been regularly hiking up their prices as they complain of increased costs.

So far, the price rises have mainly been noticeable in the meat and dairy aisles, with sausages, butter and sour cream all among the products affected. 

However, panic-buying also led supermarkets to run low on products such as cooking oils and flour as people speculated about disrupted supplies in the early weeks of the Ukraine war.

Russia and Ukraine are both major exporters of wheat, while Ukraine is a major supplier of sunflower oil.

Food suppliers and politicians have repeatedly urged consumers to avoid stockpiling items they think could run low as they play down fears of potential shortages. 

Food fair Cem Özdemir

Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) speaks at the opening of a food fair on April 26th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marius Becker

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At present, the Ministry for Agriculture doesn’t believe that potential bottlenecks are likely to affect the country’s overall food supply. 

“The supply of food in Germany continues to be secure,” the statement from the ministry said. 

The government currently assumes that the total supply of gas “can be physically ensured until the end of summer or the beginning of autumn 2022 in the event of a sudden and prolonged stoppage of all Russian gas imports”.

If the supply of vegetables and ornamental plants is affected, this could be compensated for with supplies from other EU countries, the ministry said.

However, consumers may have to contend with further price rises in the supermarket. 

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