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Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – Wheat fields bombed, peasants gone to the front lines, supply chains ruined.
Half of Ukraine’s harvest this year, crucial for the world’s food supply, could be lost due to the war in Russia, the country’s agriculture minister warned in an interview with AFP.
Last year, Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of Europe, harvested a record 106 million tonnes of grain, but this year that figure could drop by 25 or even 50 percent, Mykola Solsky said in written remarks to AFP on Wednesday.
“And that’s still an optimistic forecast,” Solsky said.
Famous for its fertile black soil, Ukraine was the world’s fourth largest corn exporter and is on its way to becoming the third largest wheat exporter.
Russia’s war was catastrophic for its agriculture and economy.
Several areas, especially fertile Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Odessa in the south, are experiencing intense fighting or inaccessible to agriculture.
While Solsky promised that “Ukrainian farmers will sow wherever possible”, he estimated that they could only access 50-75% of Ukraine’s cultivated land this season, which could lead to food shortages around the world.
“Because of this war, there may be hunger in a number of countries,” Solsky said.
Farmers at the front
With many farmers joining the military or volunteer home defense units, farms are scrambling for labor.
“We have a shortage of workers,” Solsky said.
His department is now trying to implement a system of temporary military exemptions for agricultural workers, Solsky added.
Despite the war, Ukrainian farmers have already started to sow wheat, barley, rapeseed, oats, sunflowers and soybeans, but the changing military situation forces them to improvise.
Farmers will plant crops depending on the availability of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and fuel.
“Every farmer and every farm will now have to decide for themselves,” Solsky said.
“Cynically hitting our fuel depots”
Fuel shortage is another major concern. Prior to the war, Ukraine received most of its fuel from Russia and Moscow’s ally Belarus, and these supplies are now banned. Meanwhile, seaports, another source of fuel deliveries, are blocked by Russian forces.
The situation has deteriorated further in recent weeks, with Russian strikes destroying several large fuel depots, particularly in the west of the country, which until then had been relatively spared.
“The enemy cynically strikes at our fuel depots, knowing that we are preparing for the planting season to prevent us from completing it,” Solsky said.
Ukraine has enough reserves to feed its own population, which before the war was around 40 million people. It did so by banning or restricting exports of wheat, sugar, buckwheat, barley and oats as well as beef and poultry.
But agricultural exports are crucial both to the country’s economy and to the world’s food supply.
On Tuesday, Russia was accused before the UN Security Council of creating a global food crisis with its war, which could have particularly dire consequences for North Africa and the Middle East.
Before the war, Ukraine exported 4.5 million tons of agricultural products every month from its ports, but the Russian blockade “basically stopped our exports,” Solsky said.
“The Russians are bombing our ports and have undermined the sea routes,” he said. “To restore them, after our victory, will take several years.”
The government is looking for ways to increase railway exports, Solsky added.
© 2022 AFP