“Weaponizing food is not a new trick for Russian forces. They did it to us in 1932-1933, and they repeat it today, but to the whole planet”
March 17, 2023
Ukrainian ‘grains of truth’. One year of farming under Russian missiles
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine hits its first anniversary, Ukrainian farmers are facing a new set of challenges for keeping the title of the ‘breadbasket of the world’. In April last year, Harbingers’ Magazine published an article describing how Ukrainian farmers entered a “war mode” to continue their operation. Now it is time to ascertain how the situation developed.
Over this one year, Ukrainian farmers have continued with their harvesting despite grave projections from the Russian side that the agricultural industry will collapse in Ukraine.
Throughout the year, Ukrainian exports of grain have faced many complications. They have been severely disrupted for a few months in the Black Sea ports, due to the blockade by Russian military vessels. And only an UN-brokered deal, agreed upon in July 2022, allowed the opening of a safe humanitarian corridor for exports.
“As a result of other war-related challenges, such as electricity blackouts, employees mobilised, operations in close proximity to military zones, Ukrainian farmers are planting less, using cheaper and fewer inputs (fertilisers, seeds), which will inevitably lead to smaller harvest in 2023,” Kateryna Rybachenko, the CEO of Kyiv-based AGRO-REGION, told Harbinger’s Magazine.
Though the global demand for Ukrainian grain rises, Ukrainian export costs can’t compensate for the overall expenses.
“They still lose out on the plunged costs involving transport, logistics, and demurrage costs, which all come with exporting the grain outside of Ukraine. The location of the companies is also a contributing factor to the increased costs. This is due to the correspondence of the ports being located in the West of Ukraine, meaning that companies will have easier access depending on their distance from the port,” Rybachenko said.
Many agricultural companies have had to come up with creative innovations to facilitate smooth grain transportation. AGRO-REGION, for instance, has built rail tracks entirely from scratch located on the Romanian border, while others started to use drones to eliminate toxic bombs from fields.
Some Ukrainian farmers chose not to soil the grain at all since the price to export is simply unfeasible, hence why the supply of grain in a few months’ time will be decreasing. This might be reflected in local supermarkets when people do grocery shopping in the upcoming months. It is always worrying when necessary foods disappear from the grocery store as it indicates a shortage in the market.
So why are the Black Sea Ports being open not equal to smooth Ukrainian exports?
“The sabotage comes as a result of the Russian inspection of slow-walking ship checks”. Every ship, on average, takes 45 days to get checked. This has created a grain corridor which now further increases the so-called “demurrage costs”, which are the fees which need to be paid when loaded containers (with the grain) are left on the ship for too long. “A ship filled with grain, on average, now costs 1 million dollars due to the high demurrage costs. This new problem reflects the higher costs to export grain on top of all previous costs increasing for Ukrainian farmers,” explained Rybachenko.
“Weaponizing food is not a new trick for Russian forces. They did it to us in 1932-1933, and they repeat it today, but to the whole planet.”
Here are some of the figures according to the official data from the Ministry of Agriculture, State Customs, and the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club.
Ukrainian Agribusiness Club (UKAB) represents more than 120 different agriculture companies and prioritises increasing the competitiveness of the Ukrainian agrarian sector even during the complications that it brings.
Its daily update on the 25th of February has highlighted some harsh figures. It has been stated that by the end of 2022, the production of grain crops will have decreased by 37% compared to the previous record-breaking low figures that the 2021 harvest brought.
Agricultural exports also decreased in 2022. For instance, the exports of grain crops have been 24% lower than the previous year and of vegetable oils by 17%.
“However, the most painful and serious problem for the further activity of farmers is the increase in the gap between the world and domestic prices. Before the war, this gap was about $40 per ton, and now, it is about $150 per ton for grain. And these are additional costs of the manufacturer, which include logistics costs, insurance and all risks that are now borne only by the Ukrainian side,” added the UKAB expert.
The main export destinations for Ukrainian grain are Africa and Asia.
“As a result of increased demand for Ukrainian grain and the reduction in its supply, consequently, the prices have gone up for those continents. Therefore, they are worse off as well. Moreover, the exports are not reaching their allocated destination as fast as they used to,” Rybachenko explained.
She thinks that the impact could be felt in several months because the grain exported now is the one that was grown before farmers could forecast the such a high cost.
“We will see the impact of less grain and more expensive produce in several months. But overall, 2023 as a year for the agriculture sector is looking increasingly bleak,” Rybachenko predicted.
While the export of grain remains the biggest struggle for Ukrainian farmers, there are still other challenges, such as the far less obvious environmental impacts of ammunition being found in the soil which could then result in toxic leakages if not safely removed from fields.
This could potentially have a grave impact on human health because if the chemicals from weapons seeps into the soil that then produces contaminated plants that we then eat.
Ukraine continues to struggle with its historical faith but it will continue to fight for its freedom and through that deliver some key farmed goods to your table.