April 14. 2024. 6:43

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Ukrainian farmers sound alarm ahead of sowing season 


Ukrainian farmers have sounded the alarm ahead of the upcoming Spring sowing season, asking for support to de-mine fields and help smooth out logistical problems, according to a representative from the Ukrainian farmers’ association.

Ukraine’s agriculture sector has been hit hard by Russia’s invasion of the country.

According to a recent assessment from the Kyiv School of Economy, the direct damage to the Ukrainian agriculture sector currently stands at $6.6 billion (€6.14 billion), while the overall losses for the sector by the end of 2022 amounted to more than $40 billion dollars (€36.9 billion).

Meanwhile, 10 out of 20 regions of Ukraine were occupied or had hostilities taking place on their territory, impacting 42% of all commercial milk production and resulting in a 13% drop in cow herds, forecast to drop further by as much as 10%.

The pig and poultry sectors have also been heavily impacted, with the population of pigs reaching record low numbers – a decrease of 5 million on 2022’s figures – while the poultry sector has battled with power cuts and active hostilities, pushing poultry meat production down by 8% and egg production by 35%.

Despite the destruction, Ukrainian farmers have continued to go to the fields and work, not only to ensure food security inside the country but in the world, as MEPs pointed out in a recent hearing at the European Parliament.

“It is miraculous Ukrainians are still able to produce anything at all,” socialist MEP Clara Aguilera remarked.

However, Maria Didukh, a representative of the Ukrainian National Agrarian Forum, warned MEPs that assistance was needed to sustain Ukraine’s agricultural systems throughout this year.

“The farmers don’t have the necessary resources to sow the seeds this year,” she warned, outlining shortage of funds, power cuts and logistics as the key stumbling blocks.

As such, due to the difficulties with transportation and the expense of the mineral fertilisers, the country will see a general harvest reduction of wheat, she said, warning that this may drop by as much as 34%.

“Ukrainian farmers are in the process of the transition towards growing more soy and sunflower seeds because they are easier to export,” Didukh explained, adding that logistic problems remain ‘substantial’ as they take “60% of the price”.

The warnings come on the back of a challenging Autumn planting season which, due to a lack of financial resources for the farmers to purchase the necessary means of production and start the sowing season, saw a drop of 24% of areas sown in Autumn.

Meanwhile, for the upcoming Spring planting campaign, only 74% of the total arable lands are available as the rest of its territory remains under Russian occupation.

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Plea for support

When asked about the kind of support Ukraine needs, Didukh stressed the need to help farmers on the de-occupied territories by de-mining the fields, as farmers can’t work on the fields and more than 5 million hectares of arable lands are filled with mines.

“We would like to ask the European Union to join the de-mining efforts, not only by providing financial help but also your experts,” she said.

Czech MEP Veronika Vrecionova voiced support for such a move, stressing that there is a ‘clear discrepancy’ between Western Ukraine, where the sowing capacity was used to 100% and the Eastern regions, like Kharkiv Obslast, where only 26% of previously available land has been able to be seeded.

“A lot of areas are mined, and even though there is no fighting there at the moment, farmers are faced with a vast uncertainty and Ukraine has to find some means of motivating the farmers to do business in these areas,” she said.

However, others expressed concerns about the experts going to the high-risk area and the limited scope of the operations that the EU can conduct due to the territories being under occupation or close to the occupied areas.

Logistics are ‘too expensive’

Logistics remains another key challenge, with Ukrainian farmers stressing the need for more support for the transport and export of agrifood goods.

The EU’s solidarity lanes initiative guaranteed food security so far, but since February 2023 Ukraine has been facing more and more problems on the borders with Poland.

“The situation has deteriorated seriously, there are huge lines of cargo on the Polish border, including the sealed cargoes that transit through the Polish ports,” the Ukrainian representative pointed out.

This disadvantages both sides, as Ukrainian farmers cannot sell their product, which also means “they have no financial resources for sowing”.

Meanwhile, the influx of Ukrainian grain has caused issues in several neighbouring countries, including Romania and Bulgaria along with Poland, which recently had additional financial aid approved by the Commission to help recover their national sectors.

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The European Commission has vowed to continue Ukrainian agricultural exports, intending to address the mounting reports of market disruption at the war-torn country’s borders through Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support measures.