Ukraine conflict underscores importance of farmers for domestic, global food security

October 25, 2022

To say Ukrainian farmers have had a difficult year would be an understatement. They’re not just battling difficult weather or poor markets. They’ve found themselves in a fight for freedom, and, at many times, their lives.

A New York Times report shares stories from Ukraine of farmers remaining in the fields trying to bring in their harvests of wheat, barley and sunflowers. Tractor drivers have been killed by Russian artillery and mines. Survivors have watched thousands of acres of golden, harvest-ready wheat burn from Russia’s military strikes.

“They see the combines and fire at them,” said Yevhen Sytnychenko, head of the military administration in the Kryvyi Rih district, in an interview for the story, published Aug. 4, 2022. “They do it so we won’t have grain, so we cannot eat and cannot export.”

Aside from the life-threatening danger of farming in Ukraine, the Russia-Ukraine War has made it difficult for Ukrainian farmers to access seeds, fertilizers, plant protection and other inputs. Inputs simply aren’t available, or farmers can’t get them because roads and other infrastructure have been damaged. They face challenges acquiring financing, which is needed to buy basic supplies and to cover unexpected costs. And if farmers can get a crop harvested, they must figure out how to get it to domestic and international marketplaces.

Russia denies having a role in food insecurity issues in Ukraine and elsewhere, which Solutions from the Land saw during the CFS 50 meeting in Rome. Delegates could not come to an agreement on a key agenda item, “Coordinating policy responses to the global food crisis—the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022,” due to differences regarding the role the Russia-Ukraine war, which Russia continues to call its “special military operation,” in worsening global food and nutrition insecurity.

The Russian aggression and destruction of Ukrainian farmland and agricultural infrastructure is a powerful reminder of the critical role farmers and agricultural value chains play in ensuring availability of and access to food and nutrition.

Farmers, including those in Ukraine, are heavily invested in their land and want to see it continue to produce food for their communities and the world. They also produce a whole set of additional services that benefit society, such as economic value and healthy soil, water and air. However, when their ability to produce an abundance of nutritious food is threatened—as it is in Ukraine right now, so is the health and survival of humanity.

Without farmers, there is no food security. Without food security, societies become more vulnerable to further conflict and demise. 

The threat is not just to the Ukrainian people. The war has disrupted Ukraine’s ability to get agricultural products to international markets, where it has become known as a major exporter of grain and oilseed. The country, which is slightly smaller than Texas, ranks No. 1 in the world for sunflower exports, No. 2 for sunflower oil and meal, No. 4 for barley, No. 6 for corn and rapeseed, and No. 7 for wheat, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in April 2022.

Countries like Egypt, which historically has sourced 82% of its wheat imports from Ukraine and Russia, have had to secure different, more stable sources of grain.

Efforts are underway to support farmers in Ukraine. USAID has contributed $100 million and seeks to leverage an additional $150 million from fellow donors and the private sector for the Agriculture Resilience Initiative – Ukraine. The AGRI-Ukraine initiative is intended to bolster Ukrainian agriculture exports and to help alleviate the global food security crisis exacerbated by Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine. It focuses on purchasing and delivering critical inputs to farmers; improving and increasing export logistics and infrastructure; increasing farmers’ access to financing; and providing drying, storage, and processing support. We applaud the effort to keep farmers first in ensuring Ukraine can continue agricultural production now, during this crisis, and in the future.

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