Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been encouraging the country’s farmers to sow as many fields as they can in an effort to protect the food supply. It’s an important message from the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil and second-largest shipper of grains, but it’s looking increasingly impossible as Russia’s invasion of the country rages on.
In a video released last week, Zelenskyy said that the country needs to carry out a sowing campaign “to the extent that’s possible.”
He added: “All depends on people and the situation, because this is about life.”
However, some of the country’s biggest agribusinesses have warned that these plantings will not be possible if the war continues. Some farmers are reluctant to plant because they worry about drawing air attacks on themselves and their surrounding villages. The towns and villages have been turning off their lights at night so they are invisible from above, and the bright lights of tractors operating at night could draw unwanted attention. Others report being unable to plant because of dozens of dead Russians lying in the fields.
UkrLandFarming, one of the nation’s largest agricultural companies, said several of its company managers were killed in fighting in northern Ukraine and Kyiv, and they also reported losing more than 297,000 acres of land to Russian invasion, which equates to a third of their land portfolio.
They’ve also had to close three of their egg farms. One, the Chornobaivka near Kherson, is the biggest egg farm in Europe. The company said that 3.1 million laying hens are dying at the site.
Another major agricultural business, IMC SA, has said that although it would like to keep its operations running, it can’t let workers into many of its fields due to safety concerns. Much of its land is found in the northern part of the country, where Russian forces are currently occupying villages. With roadways mined and bridges and roads broken, it’s not looking too promising for the sowings that are normally carried out by the middle of May there.
The company’s CEO, Alex Lissitsa, said: “We do wish that the war will be ending soon, and then we’re going to prepare something and try to plant everywhere. But honestly, nobody knows.”
IMC has shifted its focus from producing hundreds of thousands of tons of corn and wheat to ensuring local stocks and helping the Ukrainian government deliver essentials like baby food. At its dairy, staff have been unable to deliver veterinary services or feed to barns housing around a thousand cows. The electricity has also gone out at the barns, which means milking machines were unable to operate. He fears the farm will soon be nothing more than a memory because the animals will be unable to survive. Lissitsa told Bloomberg that one dairy farmer he knows had his facilities bombed.
Ukraine war will impact global supply chain
Ukraine is home to one of the world’s biggest farming sectors, selling its vegetable oil and grains throughout not only Europe but also Africa and Asia. The Russian invasion came at a crucial time for fieldwork, and the ongoing attacks are putting Ukraine’s food system as well as the entire global supply chain at risk.
According to estimates from the UN, as much as 30 percent of the fields that are normally used for sunflower seeds, corn and winter cereals will be unplanted or unharvested for the upcoming 2022 season. Summer crops like corn may be impacted even more severely, with the fighting potentially reducing the typical planting area by half and logistics problems compounding the problem.
Farmer Kees Huzinga said the port blockage will have an impact far beyond Ukraine.
“So, the Russians are starving Ukrainians here… but they will also starve the people of Northern Africa and the Middle East because there is no grain transport to these countries and they will soon face serious shortages.
“The first frontline is in Ukraine, but the second will be south of Europe,” he warned.
Sources for this article include: