Nairobi, Kenya - Kenyan economists say newly-arrived wheat imports from Ukraine could help ease hunger in drought-stricken areas and bring down high food prices. Thirty thousand tons of wheat arrived in Kenya Monday under the U.N.-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative, in which Russia agreed not to block Ukrainian grain shipments. But Russian President Vladimir Putin warned this week that Moscow could end the deal within 60 days.
The increased cost of cereal commodities such as wheat has left bakers like Harrison Kiai in the grip of higher wheat flour prices. Kiai said these days, his profits are insignificant.
'Prices of the baking items like flour, sugar, when you compare [them] to the last maybe two years, the cost was a bit down," he said. "So, the challenges that we have right now to increase the cost, which maybe the customer is not comfortable with because when you go to the market, the things have shot up.''
Harrison believes that recent wheat imports from Ukraine will help ease soaring flour prices.
The consignment, which is part of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's "Grain from Ukraine" humanitarian program, was shipped under the U.N.-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative.
'Our commitment to food security is in the fact, the ship is coming and it is not the first ship coming into Africa and not even the second," said Andriy Pravednky Ukraine's ambassador Kenya. "And we are planning more ships to come by the end of this year to deliver 5 million tons of grain to exclusively African countries. But we should realize that as result of Russian invasion, the crop in Ukraine went down.'
Ukrainian agricultural production and exports were severely disrupted by Russia's invasion, and many African countries that rely heavily on Ukrainian grain and wheat have struggled with shortages of key goods and high food prices ever since.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, agreed to last year, is meant to allow Ukrainian food exports to reach foreign markets. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned this week that Russia could withdraw from the agreement unless exports of its own agricultural products are facilitated.
Prior to the invasion, Kenya imported 2.4 million tons of wheat from Ukraine each year.
Although the grain that arrived in Kenya could help ease hunger in drought-hit areas, economists say African governments must develop ways to reduce the reliance on such imports, like increasing local production.
Without that, says economist Silas Omenda, countries like Kenya are at the mercy of outside events.
'We can do all these other things, but when it comes to our energy costs which is now a catalyst to value addition, it's a nightmare," said Omenda. "And also the reliance on fertilizer importation, it has also exposed us to adverse effects of inflation in the global market meaning that we don't have control of what happens in Ukraine and Russia.'
The U.N. World Food Program says the disruption in food shipments from Ukraine and Russia has left some 345 million people facing food insecurity.