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Recently, I've read an article on Politico about those ships with grain:

"Excluding Turkey as the mediator country, almost all the grain exported from Ukraine is flowing not to the poorest countries, but into the European Union," Putin said. According to U.N. data however, more than 20 vessels are heading to developing and least-developed countries (excluding those heading to Turkey). Six ships have Egypt as their final destinations, while others are heading to Djibouti, Yemen and Sudan.

Then, I've read an article on RG with this Putin quote (translated from Russian)

Of the 87 ships that left Ukrainian ports with grain, 32 remained in Turkey, and I think that this is absolutely normal, because Turkey, the country that organized this entire process, certainly has the right to do so. Three were sent to South Africa, three to Israel, seven to Egypt, 30 to the European Union, and only two to the poorest countries under UN food programs, these are Yemen and Djibouti. This is 60 thousand tons and only three percent. We have every move recorded, there are no mistakes here.

What is the truth here?

I think, that now, with instruments such as Ship Radar, it's much more simple to put it on track.

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  • 1
    Probably counting ships is more misleading than counting tonnage. FWTW Erdogan seemed to agree with Putin although E didn't advance any numbers nasdaq.com/articles/…
    – Fizz
    Sep 14 at 13:48
  • BTW Politico links to the UN data, which includes tonnage, so it's fairly easy to do some stats yourself, although the data is admittedly not in the nicest format for an import into a spreadsheet.
    – Fizz
    Sep 14 at 13:58
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    Grain is fungible. If Ukrainian grain is going to Europe, that means grain from more distant places is free to go to Africa rather than being diverted to higher-paying European buyers.
    – Mark
    Sep 14 at 22:08
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    Of course, it's fungible. But not so positive, just because of its shortage and leak of those distant places. Market was full before the war - you cannot just create 20% of production from thin air. Sep 15 at 1:21
  • 2
    @Mark Not so fungible because about half of it (exported from the Ukraine this year) was corn, according to the JCC. Which has gone for animal feed in the EU as it usually goes, due to "structural deficit" there. The wheat is apparently mostly stuck on Ukraine's fields and silos. euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/…
    – Fizz
    Sep 15 at 9:18

2 Answers 2

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Here are some precomputed stats, which are reasonably up to date as I'm writing this (9 Sep):

According to the data compiled by Farm Europe on this topic, a total of 96 outbound vessels exported grain under the UN deal as per the operational updates from the Joint Coordination Center received until 6 September, which also included the boats that were to depart on Wednesday 7 September 2022 (the day of Putin’s statement).

enter image description here

These figures indicate that EU member countries received 795,017 metric tonnes out of the total 2,171,936 metric tonnes of cereals exported from Ukrainian ports. That means that around 1,376,919 metric tonnes of grain and foodstuffs went to non-EU countries. Even so, by subtracting Turkey’s figures of perceived grain out of this amount, a total of around 937,429 metric tonnes of exports remained available to third countries. [...]

the amount of grain that was sent to least developed countries, according to the UNCTAD classification of least developed countries, was of a total of 125,840 metric tonnes of grain: Sudan received 65,340 metric tonnes of grain while Ethiopia and Yemen (reported under the unclear category because they passed through other intermediary destinations) received a total of 60,500 metric tonnes from the vessels Brave Commander and Karteria under the UN WFP.

As I mentioned in a comment, the raw data is available for those who want to do stats. One thing that's apparent by a quick inspection is Turkey was the destination of many small[er] vessels.

Also, some of the Asian countries that were the destination aren't necessarily poor either. But yeah, least developed countries only got like 5% by tonnage in that analysis. (Mind you, even India or Egypt don't count as being in that LDC category.)

That source doesn't do the sum for developing countries, but using this wiki map some EU countries actually still count as developing, so the list of developing countries among those is: Turkey, Iran, Romania, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, India, China, Bulgaria, Kenya. I get a total of 1.14 million tons for those (so about half of the exports by tonnage), albeit Turkey took 38% of that. Egypt comes 2nd, China 3rd and India 4th in that developing countries cat (although Romania isn't far behind) and then Sudan, Iran, Kenya.

enter image description here

Excluding Turkey (as having a customs union with the EU) and Romania+Bulgaria, the non-EU developing countries got some 618,321 tons, i.e. about half of the exports to developing countries, or little more than a quarter of the total.


A few days later (Sep 12), the UN JCC that organizes this has put out its own destination stats, which (caveat) include considerably more total tonnage:

As of noon on 12 September, 2.7 million metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs were moved from the three Ukrainian ports. [...]

Destinations: 28% to low and lower-middle income countries: Egypt (10%), Iran and India (5%), Sudan and Kenya (2%), and Djibouti, Lebanon, Somalia, and Yemen (1%); 27% to upper-middle income countries: Türkiye (19%), China (8%), and Bulgaria (<1%); and 44% to high-income countries: Spain (13%), The Netherlands (8%), Italy (7%), Republic of Korea (5%), Romania (4%), Germany (2%), and France, Greece, Ireland and Israel (1%). Destinations indicated are based on information received at the JCC and may change based on commercial activity. Grains that reach a destination may go through processing and be transshipped to other countries.

[footnote]: As per World Bank’s classification of countries by income

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  • As for noticeable diffs from the Ukraine stats two of vessels to Sudan and those to Algeria, Somalia, Djibouti don't show up in these summary figures from "Farm Europe" (might be those 5 listed as "unclear").
    – Fizz
    Sep 14 at 15:55
  • Purely from geography almost any ship leaving Ukraine has to go to or through Turkey. A proportion of what is marked as 'to Turkey' may be just reloaded to other ships or possibly processed and then exported. Probably there is no easy way to quantify whether this happens on any significant scale.
    – quarague
    Sep 15 at 9:18
  • @quarague: probably not. Turkey has high food deficit this year. Inflation reached 80%. reuters.com/world/middle-east/… compared to 20% last year turkeyanalyst.org/publications/turkey-analyst-articles/item/…
    – Fizz
    Sep 15 at 9:33
  • @quarague: OTOH Turkey does export pasta and the like, so they process the grains before exporting some of it as derived foodstuffs. So it's a bit less obvious than at first look. OTOH, I suspect most of those derived exports don't go to lowest income countries. As with [raw] exports from Ukraine, it's mixed bag "In 2020, Turkey exported $769M in Pasta, making it the 4th largest exporter of Pasta in the world. [...] The main destination of Pasta exports from Turkey are: Venezuela ($117M), Somalia ($81.5M), Japan ($46.9M), Ghana ($41.8M), and Togo ($30.2M)"
    – Fizz
    Sep 15 at 9:49
  • So Putin's refute of western propaganda was spot on. thx!
    – paulj
    Sep 15 at 19:07
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The BBC had this breakdown of historical Ukranian grain exports (2021 numbers shown)

Ukranian Wheat Exports 2021

There's a number of things that have changed in the interim

  1. There's a war between Russia and Ukraine. People are reluctant to send cargo ships into warzones
  2. Russians seized the ports of Ukraine for some time
  3. Europe is going through a historic drought, affecting their domestic production

You can't just have a supplier suddenly stop exporting and then suddenly start exporting again and pick up where you left off. Those countries needed grain and Ukraine (which exported virtually all of it by sea) could only get a fraction of that out by land. From the previous BBC article

The EU set up what it called "solidarity lanes," so that Ukrainian grain could be shipped from ports on the Baltic Sea, and also from the Romanian port of Constanta.

However, a lack of road and rail capacity means that Ukraine can export only 10% of its grain at most by land.

With places like Australia having booming crops, it's not surprising some countries found other sources who could meet their needs.

Thus, the Ukranian export list has changed a lot, per the Ukranian govenrnment

Current Ukrainian exports

Is Putin right?

That seems to be the main question, and the answer (based on the Ukraine graph) seems to be "no". Putin seems to be referencing the initial wave of ships leaving Ukraine (from Aug 30, 2022)

Early Ukraine export restart

If you lump Turkey into "Europe" (something something NATO), then yes, technically, a large number went to Europe. The latter numbers from Ukraine directly refute that, with 70 ships going outside Europe.

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