Ukraine’s Black Sea grain shipments will take months to return to pre-war levels, even if hostilities cease, a government minister said, saying that efforts to channel exports via alternative routes had nearly reached their limit.

“Even in the case of the ceasefire” between Ukraine and its Russian invaders, “it would take about six months to demine the sea” to allow risk-free access by vessels to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, said Markiyan Dmytrasevych, deputy minister for Ukraine agrarian policy and food.

“That is the real problem.”

Indeed, because of the war, and mining “we are not able to export” from Black Sea ports which Mr Dmytrasevych said had capacity for about 5m tonnes of grain a month, and had historically accounted for “about 90% of grain exports”.

‘Reached the limit’

The country had made great strides in expanding shipments through alternative routes, such as road and rail, which had accounted for only about 200,000 tonnes of grain exports a month.

Exports in April had reached almost 1m tonnes, and last month had risen further to 1.7m tonnes, he told the International Grains Council conference in London.

“But I think we have reached the limit” for shipments overland, and through Danube ports, he said, reporting daily Russian attacks on Ukraine’s rail system, which had the extra problem of having a different gauge to tracks in neighbouring European Union countries.

“The biggest amount we can export is about 2m tonnes a month.”

Capacity squeeze

The export squeeze was presenting Ukraine with the looming problem of absorbing its imminent harvest, with the country still had 20m tonnes of 2021 crop left in store.

“In about one month, there will be harvest,” which should bring in a further 30m-40m tonnes of grain, he estimated.

“We now face a problem of [availability] of our storage capacity.”

‘Situation even worse’

For vegetable oils, “the situation is… even worse than grain” in terms of exports, Mr Dmytrasevych added, noting that the war had prompted the closure of plants crushing oilseeds into oil and meal, besides having been particularly reliant on Black Sea shipment.

“Almost the full amount of oils was exported by Black Sea ports.

“In three months we have exported only 360,000 tonnes of sunflower oil,” of which Ukraine is the top exporter.