Farming the Next Front in Russia’s War on Ukraine

The United Nations said the ongoing global food crisis is growing rapidly as a result of the war, with no sign it will slow down any time soon. The poor in many places are becoming destitute, and the hungry are starving. In vulnerable and war-torn countries like Yemen, Ethiopia and Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine has set off a chain of events that could lead to widescale famine as more than half the World Food Program’s (WFP’s) wheat supply comes from Ukraine alone.

“The bullets and bombs in Ukraine could take the global hunger crisis to levels beyond anything we’ve seen before,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley in a statement last month.

Beyond hunger, the world now faces shortages of fuel, fertilizer and other farming necessities because of the war, and the U.N. has warned the growing scarcity could lead to civil unrest and increased global insecurity.

These warnings have done little to slow what appears to be pending disaster, according to Ukrainian officials. There is wheat in Ukraine waiting to be exported, but major ports are all closed due to attacks and most land routes are either unavailable or unsuitable.

“We are ready to sell,” said Olexandr Iasynytskyi, head of Zaporizhzhia’s regional agricultural department. “But we don’t have transportation. We are trying to figure it out.”

After the Harvest
Even if they find a way to mitigate the crisis by getting this year’s harvest to market, Iasynytskyi said, next year’s harvest is already in greater danger.

While Ukraine’s exports are stuck in place, its limited expected crops should be enough to feed civilians and soldiers for the present, according to farmers and officials. Without export sales, they say, it’s not clear how they will be able to plant next season.

“Farmers do not have enough capital right now to invest in future crops,” said Iasynytskyi, the regional agriculture chief. “They have grain but they cannot sell it. How can they operate without money?”

Banks are offering limited loans, he added, but martial law has made lenders cautious and potential investors scatter.

Farms controlled by Russia within territorial Ukraine are expected to operate this year, but it’s not clear where the food will go, or how much there will be, Iasynytskyi said. It is believed the “occupied” farms are short of supplies and cash but information is limited as many areas under Russian control are without access to mobile networks or internet.

On the Ukrainian side of the war zone, farmers said if their plots are taken, they are not sure they will continue to work, for fear their crops will feed Russia’s war machine.

“I will never work for Russia,” said Roman Umarov, 30, an agricultural engineer overseeing the spread of insecticide on a Zaporizhzhia farm last week. “But I imagine it’s not always a choice. What if they put a gun to your head?”

Heather Murdock is VOA’s Middle East correspondent based in Istanbul.This article is published courtesy of the Voice of America (VOA).