Ukrainian farmers begin sowing season amid uncertainty
By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Mar 15 (EFE).- Ukrainian farmers have started sowing new seeds amid uncertainty over export routes – with a decision on extending the UN-backed Black Sea grain corridor yet to be reached -, disruption to supply lines and the need to demine extensive areas in areas along the frontline.
A total of 16,000 hectares of arable land have already been planted with cereals and legumes, according to prime minister Denys Shmyhal.
The campaign started in Odesa amid challenges, particularly in Mykolaiv and Kherson, southern regions that would normally be extensively sowing at this time of the year.
With the stability of export routes still a key issue, the general director of the Ukrainian Agrarian Confederation Pavlo Koval tells Efe that no alternative land routes can replace the three ports in the Odesa region, which saw some 24.4 million tons of Ukrainian grain exported to Europe, Asia and Africa since August.
Ukraine hoped that the port at Mykolaiv would be included in the initiative, according to Koval. However, the main question is whether the agreement, which runs out on March 18 after a previous extension, will be renewed and whether the Russian side will allow it to operate smoothly.
Up to 140 ships heading to Ukrainian ports are now lining up at the Coordination Center in Istanbul, with Ukraine accusing Russia of stalling inspections that ships have to undergo to ensure they are not used to transport weapons.
According to Ukraine’s agriculture ministry, only 146 of 296 checks were carried out in February, limiting grain exports and adversely impacting food availability and prices worldwide.
Denys Marchuk, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council, said at a briefing earlier this week that Ukrainian farmers are in dire need of financial support of at least 40 billion Ukrainian hryvnias ($1.1 billion) to continue the campaign.
“Despite the grain deal, most producers operate at a loss, which has eroded their financial capacity,” he said.
Logistical costs have increased by a factor of five or six, while the cost of fertilizers has also skyrocketed due to the Russian invasion.
Ukrainian farmers have been helped significantly by the state, support which encouraged banks to lend money to farmers under specific programs. The program was renewed on Tuesday, which is expected to stabilize the situation after a short period of uncertainty earlier this month.
The industry is also suffering from a labor deficit as hundreds of thousands of men have joined the army, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that rural, more agriculture-reliant areas have been disproportionately affected.
Ukraine has lost 25% of its arable land as a result of the war, according to the ministry of agriculture.
Besides the Russian-occupied areas, some 5 million hectares have been contaminated by mines, according to Marchuk.
In Mykolaiv, Kherson and Kharkiv, the situation is especially difficult due to the fierce fighting before the Russians withdrew last year.
The current priority is Mykolaiv, where a state demining program is in progress. In Kharkiv, a pilot demining program, run jointly by the state and the FAO, is also about to start.
The demining may take years, according to Marchuk. Some 300,000 hectares of arable land need to be cleared in Mykolaiv alone, but the current state program only aims at demining 3,000 hectares.
Despite the danger, smaller-sized farming companies who cannot afford to wait have started working their fields, leading to casualties and damaged or lost equipment. EFE