US announces plan to build silos on Ukraine border to export grain

Temporary silos will be built along the Ukraine border, including in Poland, in an attempt to help export more grain from the country and avert a global food crisis, Joe Biden has announced.

The US president told a Philadelphia union convention on Tuesday that he was working with European governments on the plan “to help bring down food prices”.

An estimated 20m tonnes of grain has been trapped in Ukraine – the world’s fifth-biggest wheat exporter – since the war began in late February, leading to fears of famine in some countries.

When Russia invaded, it blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Russian and Ukrainian forces have also filled the surrounding waters with mines. Attempts to restart shipping have failed, and about 84 foreign vessels are stuck in Ukrainian ports, many with grain cargoes on board.

A huge diplomatic effort to rescue Ukraine’s grain has faltered as it has always been transported by sea rather than through less reliable road or rail networks.

In his speech, Biden said the grain could not “get out through the Black Sea because it will get blown out of the water”, referring to floating mines.

Instead, he said, Washington was developing a plan to get grain out by rail but noted Ukrainian railway tracks were different to those in Europe – being slightly wider spaced – so the grain would have to be transferred to different trains at the border. “So we’re going to build silos, temporary silos, on the borders of Ukraine, including in Poland,” Biden said.

Grain could be transferred from Ukrainian railway cars into the new silos, and then on to European freight cars to “get it out to the ocean and get it across the world”, he said, adding the plan was taking time.

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“This is just one of the possibly useful steps in ensuring food security. But we also need a green corridor for our ports,” Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff to Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in an online post, referring to the blockade.

Ukraine’s agriculture ministry on Tuesday said European countries were considering providing temporary silos to “preserve the harvest and secure future grain supplies”.

The holdup in exporting grain has contributed to what analysts have called a “perfect storm” for global food supplies, as farmers face rising oil and fertiliser costs and the lingering effect of coronavirus labour restrictions.

The head of the African Union warned last month that Moscow’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports risked “a catastrophic scenario” of food shortages and price rises.

Reuters contributed to this report