The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that millions of people are "marching towards starvation" unless ports in southern Ukraine which have been closed because of the war, are reopened.
One of the top three grain exporters in the world, Ukraine is known as "Europe's breadbasket." The conflict caused by Russia's invasion has blocked Black Sea ports in the country and stranded millions of tons of grain in silos.
More grain is stranded on ships which are unable to move because of the conflict, the WFP said and if the ports are not opened soon, Ukrainian farmers will have nowhere to store the next harvest in July and August.
This raises the prospect that mountains of grain will go to waste amid a growing world hunger crisis.
Around 276 million people worldwide were facing acute hunger at the start of 2022, but this number is expected to rise by 47 million people—particularly affecting sub-Saharan Africa—if the conflict in Ukraine continues.
"We have to open up these ports so that food can move in and out of Ukraine," WFP Executive Director David Beasley said.
"We're running out of time and the cost of inaction will be higher than anyone can imagine," he said. I urge all parties involved to allow this food to get out of Ukraine to where it's desperately needed so we can avert the looming threat of famine".
In the eight months before the war, around 51 million metric tons went through the country's seven Black Sea ports. The disruption caused by the war has pushed export prices for wheat and maize rose by more than a fifth.
"Ukraine's grain silos are full," he said in a statement on Friday, "at the same time, 44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation.
The ripple effect of the war is being felt across the world's food supply. Nearly 30 percent of the world's wheat, a fifth of its exports of corn, mineral fertilizer and natural gas comes from Ukraine and Russia.
Even before the Ukraine war, energy and food prices had increased last year due to higher demand in places such as China, low production of crops at the beginning of 2021, and the disruption to supply chains because of the COVID pandemic.
Now the disturbance to the world's supply chains caused by the war is adding even further strain to the world's access to food pressure.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said last month that 2022 is likely to be the worst year from a food crisis and global hunger and starvation perspective "than any year since World War II."