I SUSPECT not too many National readers tuned in to watch the TRT World Forum last weekend. Hosted in Istanbul and sponsored by the state broadcaster and government of Turkiye, it featured 100 speakers from 40 countries and the forum discussed food security, technology, security issues, potential collaborations and a host of other topics.

So far so worthy, but not so much different from the multitude of other international conferences, public and private which abound, gravely discussing the world’s problems.

However, this year’s TRT World Forum carried a distinction which elevates it onto a level above just earnest discussion and the craft of state promotion.

And that is that Turkiye and this conference were able to promote a genuine achievement which has made a real difference to the lives of millions across the planet. That achievement is the Black Sea grain deal, the one and only chink of light amid the darkness of war on the European continent.

The main speaker at the conference was Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy but the platform also encompassed senior Russian representatives. And President Recep Erdogan of Turkiye can justifiably lay claim to the mantle of being the one world leader who has relentlessly pursued the path of peace and mediation in this conflict.

The “unprecedented agreement” on the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports amid the ongoing war is “a beacon of hope” in a world that desperately needs it, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said when the deal was signed in July in Istanbul.

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It was a UN plan but it was made possible by the position of Turkiye as the honest broker between the two warring parties. It allows the free flow of Russian food and fertiliser, and Ukrainian grain, onto the world markets.

As a result, the world food crisis has thus far avoided going the same way as the world gas crisis. In the absence of the Black Sea deal, the inevitable result would have been for us the inconvenience of an acute shortage of fertiliser in local garden centres and more seriously further hikes in farming and food costs, but for Africa, it could have heralded mass starvation across the continent with country after country unable to afford subsistence level food imports.

Instead of this chaos, there is now established in Istanbul the order of a flow of food trade, policed by the offices of the Joint Co-ordination Centre (JCC) which monitors the implementation of the deal.

In the JCC, Russian and Ukrainian officials work side by side with their Turkish and UN counterparts to keep the cargo ships sailing safely through the Bosporus Strait onto the Sea of Marmara and to international waters.

At the end of last month and, against the expectations of many cynical commentators, the agreement was extended for another 120 days and thus a global food apocalypse was averted once again.

“The initiative for safe transportation of agricultural products across the Black Sea has been extended for another 120 days,” Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister confirmed.

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“This decision was just taken in Istanbul. The UN and Turkiye remained guarantors of the initiative,” he added.

Since the deal took effect, “Ukraine has exported more than 11 million tonnes of agricultural products to 38 countries around the world”, Kubrakov said. “This is a significant amount, but not enough. The world market cannot replace Ukrainian agricultural products in the near future.

At the same time, it is possible to increase the amount of our food for the world,” he added. Grain prices fell after the deal was extended. Benchmark wheat futures traded in Chicago declined 2% to $8 a bushel while corn dropped 1% to $6.59 a bushel.

Meanwhile, the war grinds on and the death rate on both sides now numbers in the tens of thousands, Ukraine’s infrastructure is totally debilitated and the Russian army has been exposed as a decrepit paper tiger.

There is still no end to this disaster in clear sight. But all wars end in negotiation and this one will be no different. However, right now there seems to be little strategic imperative invested in restoring the peace by any of the world powers.

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As people across Europe shiver in their homes unable to afford sky-high fuel costs, we should be under no illusions that there are, as Stanley Baldwin once said, “hard-faced men who have done very well out of the war”.

And so it is against this dismal background that the Black Sea grain deal should be lauded and those who made it possible are fully entitled to their moment of congratulation at the TRT World Forum.

We are all in their debt and the fact that the western media are so busy covering the war that they seem to have little time to ponder on the prospects for peace does not diminish the importance of what has been achieved and what eventually this patient successful negotiation might lead to.

Istanbul bestrides the border between Europe and Asia, representing the boundary between the western and Islamic worlds.

But this Christmastide, a predominantly Muslim state also represents the dividing line between the grim reality of war and the flickering hopes for peace.