Romania hopes to fill a global gap in food supplies. As the world is in dire need of a new breadbasket to replace Ukraine's grain.

Even before Russia's Invasion and blockade of Ukrainian ports, the global food system was under severe stress.

Even before the war, though, the global food system was under stress. Covid-19 and related supply-chain blockages had bumped up prices of fuel and fertilizer, while brutal dry spells and unseasonal floods had diminished harvest.

Since the war began on Feb-24, roughly two dozen countries, including India, have tried to ensure their domestic food supplies by limiting exports, which in turn has exacerbated global shortages.

This year, droughts in Europe, the United States, and the Horn of Africa have all taken additional tolls on harvests. In Italy, water has been rationed in the farm-producing P Valley and river levels dropped enough to reveal a barge that had sunk in World War II.

Stopping at the edge of a vast field of barley on his farm in Prundu, 30 miles outside Bucharest, Romania's capital, Catalin Corbea pinched off a spiky flowered head from a stalk, rolled it between his hands, and then popped a seed in his mouth and bit down.

''Another 10 days or two weeks,'' he said, explaining how much time was needed before the crop was ready for harvest.

Mr.Corbea, a farmer for nearly three decades, has rarely been through a season like this one. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, a breadbasket for the world, has caused an upheaval in global grain markets. Coastal blockades have trapped millions of tons of wheat and corn inside Ukraine.

With famine stalking Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, a frenetic scramble for suppliers and alternate shipping routes is underway.

''Because of the war, there are opportunities for Romanian farmers this year,'' Mr. Corbea said through a translator.

The question is whether Romania will be able to take advantage of them by expanding its own agricultural sector while helping the food gap left by Ukraine.

In many ways, Romania is well positioned. Its port in Constanta, on the western coast of the Black Sea, has provided a critical - although tiny - transit point for Ukrainian grain since the war began.

Romania's own farm output is dwarfed by Ukraine's, but it is one of the largest grain exporters in the European Union.

Last year, it sent 60 percent of its wheat abroad, mostly to Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. This year, the government has allocated 500 million euros [$527 million] to support farming and keep production up.

Still this Eastern European nation faces many challenges : Its farmers, while benefiting from higher prices, are dealing with soaring costs of diesel fuel, pesticides and fertilizer.

Transportation infrastructure across the country and at its ports is neglected and outdated, slowing the movement of its own exports while stymieing Romania's efforts to help Ukraine do an end run around Russian blockades.

Romania has its own transit issues. High-speed rail is rare, and the country lacks an extensive highway system. Infrastructure has suffered from decades of underinvestment.

In recent months, the Romanian government has plowed money into clearing hundreds of rusted wagons from rail lines and refurbishing tracks.

Still, trucks entering and exiting the port from the highway must share a single-lane roadway. An attendant mans the gate, which has to be lifted for each vehicle.

When the bulks of the Romanian harvests begin to arrive at the terminals in the next few weeks, the congestion will get significantly worse.

Each day, 3,000 to 5,000 trucks will arrive, causing backups for miles on the highway that leads into Constanta, said Cristian Taranu, the general manager at the terminals run by the Romanian operator Umex.

Said one farmer : ''During the busiest periods, my trucks are waiting for two or three days'' just to enter the port's complex so they can unload, he said through a translator.

That is one reason that many are less sanguine about Romania's ability to take advantage of farming and export opportunities.

''Port Constanta is not prepared for such an opportunity. They don't have the infrastructure.''

The World Students Society thanks author Patricia Cohen.


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