The first shipment of Russian fertiliser bound for Africa has left the Netherlands after days of wrangling to ensure it was not snagged by Western sanctions.
Dutch and United Nations officials said some 20,000 tonnes of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) left on board the MV Greenwich from the southern Dutch port of Terneuzen on Tuesday afternoon.
The ship was chartered by the UN’s food security agency, the World Food Programme, and the cargo is part of some 260,000 tonnes of Russian-produced fertiliser stored in ports around Europe.
The shipment – headed to Malawi via Mozambique – is the first of a series of exports destined for countries in Africa in the coming months, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said in a statement.
It “will serve to alleviate the humanitarian needs and prevent catastrophic crop loss on the African continent, where it is currently planting season,” he said.
The UN was continuing “intense diplomatic efforts with all parties to ensure the unimpeded exports of critical food and fertilisers from Ukraine and the Russian Federation, exempt from sanction regimes, to the world markets,” he added.
An agreement to ensure Russia’s fertiliser exports were exempt from sanctions imposed on Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine was reached in July in a bid to ease the global food insecurity crisis.
Dutch officials, however, blocked the shipment, saying an individual on the sanctions list was involved in the fertiliser company.
Officials gave the green light after UN assurances that the shipment would be delivered to Malawi, its intended destination, and that the Russian company and the sanctioned individual would not benefit.
The shipment is set to be offloaded in the central Mozambican port of Beira, before being transported overland to landlocked Malawi in Southern Africa. A second batch of fertiliser should head to West Africa, the UN said on Friday.
“Fertilisers play a key role in food systems, as 50 percent of the world population depend on agricultural products that are produced with the help of mineral fertilisers,” Dujarric said.
“Nitrogen fertiliser shortages this year could result in a production loss next year of 66 million tonnes of staple crops (maize, rice and wheat), enough to feed 3.6 billion people, almost half of humanity, for a month.
“Reconnecting fertiliser markets is a critical step to ensure global food security for 2023,” he added