Senegalese President and African Union Chair Macky Sall on Thursday urged Ukraine to demine waters around its Odesa port to ease much needed grain exports from the war-torn country.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions have disrupted grain deliveries from the two countries, fueling fears of hunger around the world.
Cereal prices in Africa, the world’s poorest continent, have surged because of the slump in exports, sharpening the impact of conflict and climate change and sparking fears of social unrest.
If wheat exports do not resume from Ukraine, Africa “will be in a situation of very serious famine that could destabilize the continent,” Sall told French media outlets France 24 and RFI.
Russia and Ukraine produce 30% of the global wheat supply.
But grain remains stuck in Ukraine’s ports because of a Russian blockade and Ukrainian mines, while Western sanctions on Moscow have disrupted exports from Russia.
Moscow has called for Ukraine to demine the waters surrounding the Ukrainian-controlled port of Odesa to allow out blocked grain, but Kyiv has refused for fear of a Russian attack.
Sall said Russia President Vladimir Putin, whom he met last week in Russia, had assured him this would not happen.
“I even told him: ‘The Ukrainians said that if they demine, you’ll enter the port.’ He says, no, he will not enter, and that’s a commitment he made,” the Senegalese leader said.
“There must now be work towards getting the demining done, the United Nations involved … so that we can start getting the Ukrainian wheat out,” he said.
Sall is to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in France on Friday.
He is expected to ask him to help lift EU sanctions against Russia, especially to reverse its exclusion from the global SWIFT bank messaging system.
“Since our banks are mostly linked to European banks, they cannot pay as they used to” for Russian products, the AU chair explained.