After sanctions-related obstacles hit Moscow, the first shipment of Russian fertilizer left the Netherlands on Tuesday for Malawi, Dutch customs and the UN said.
Some 20,000 tons of NPK chemical fertilizers - made from nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium - left Tuesday afternoon on board the MV Greenwich from the port of Terneuzen in the southwest of the Netherlands, according to officials.
Russian fertilizer exports, crucial for combating the food crisis, have long been paralyzed.
Agricultural products and fertilizers do not fall under the sanctions against Russia, but because of the risks linked to the conflict incurred in the Black Sea, shipowners no longer wanted to hire their boats for lack of insurers.
The United Nations has undertaken "intense diplomatic efforts with all parties to ensure unimpeded exports of essential food and fertilizers (from) Ukraine and the Russian Federation, free of sanctions regimes, to world markets," said Stephane Dujarric , spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General.
Some 260,000 tons of Russian fertilizer stored in ports in Europe must be exported in order to prevent "a catastrophic crop loss in Africa" where the planting season is underway, according to the UN.
The ship, chartered by the UN food security agency, the World Food Program (WFP), left the Netherlands shortly before 2 p.m. GMT. According to Dutch Foreign Affairs, the shipment had been frozen because a sanctioned individual is involved with the Russian company that owns it.
The decision to release the shipment was taken after the UN guaranteed to ensure that it would be delivered to the agreed location (Malawi) and that the Russian company and the sanctioned individual would gain nothing from the transaction, as they specified.
As part of the implementation of the two agreements signed on July 22 in Istanbul to guarantee unimpeded access to food and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia, the WFP announced in mid-November that it would facilitate the donation of 260,000 tons of fertilizer by the Russian company Uralchem-Uralkali to the most needy countries in Africa.
The first cargo is expected to be unloaded at the central Mozambican port of Beira , before being transported overland to Malawi, a landlocked country in southern Africa.
The second shipment of Russian fertilizers will be destined for West Africa, the UN said on November 18