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Ukraine: can we help through trade?

by Ina Hiester (comments: 0)

Bottles of sunflower oil
Important Ukrainian crops such as corn, wheat, or sunflower products have not been banned from export yet. Picture © iStock / vovashevchuk

Despite the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian organic sector calls on their international partners to help organic operators through trade. But what is and what is not possible in times of war? 

Occupied land, mined fields, destroyed farms, warehouses, and infrastructure; lack of fuel and vehicles, and a domestic demand that has nosedived. Since the Russian invasion in February, many organic operators in Ukraine do not only fear for their lives, but also for their farms and businesses. Especially in the last 20 years, organic agriculture had been on the rise in this fertile, vast country, reaching 460.000 hectares by the end of 2021. Although most organic crops used to be exported, domestic consumption of organic products had also picked up. Now, in times of war, years and years of building up the Ukrainian organic sector could be destroyed within a few months only. Our author Ina Hiester has investigated if and under which conditions trade can help now. 

Availability of Ukrainian organic products for export 

“For both conventional and organic, Ukraine produces much more than it needs to satisfy domestic consumption. Consequently, we do have products for export available – and we want to sell them”, states Sergiy Galashevskiy, Head of Ukraine’s leading organic certification body Organic Standard. However, in occupied territories, stocks have been both destroyed and plundered by the Russian forces, whilst some products have been suspended from export by the Ukrainian ministry of agriculture. 

The list of goods that are excluded from export is updated every couple of weeks and currently comprises oat, rye, buckwheat, edible salt, and fertilizers. Millet and sugar have been taken off the list earlier this month. Although the world is on alert because of skyrocketing food prices and empty supermarket shelves, important Ukrainian crops such as corn, wheat, or sunflower products have not been banned from export yet. Sergiy explains: “National export restrictions are not our main concern. For organic products, I have not heard from any producer who has failed to obtain permission to export their crops. Our biggest challenge is getting the goods out of the country”. 

Exporting from Ukraine: infrastructure is the biggest challenge 

Since the beginning of the war, the occupation and destruction of major seaports, roads, bridges, oil reservoirs and fuel refineries hamper both national and international transport. “The lack of trucks and manpower for logistics make the situation ever more difficult whilst transportation costs are increasing”, says Sergiy. Malin Hillebrandt, Product Manager at EgeSun, adds: "Since mid-April 2022, transports to and from Ukraine have become even more problematic for insurance reasons. In theory, deliveries have to be transported uninsured now, but nobody wants to take that risk.”  

For now, consignments can still be delivered by railway from Odessa to Constanta on the Romanian coast and then to further destinations. Furthermore, goods can be transported on the Donau river leaving from Reni and Izmail and heading all the way through Romania and Serbia to Austria and Germany. At the same time, a lot of goods are being transported to the Baltic countries by rail so that they can then be exported further from Baltic ports. The German company Rapunzel is currently expecting its first Ukrainian linseed delivery via these alternative transport routes. “Usually, we receive these deliveries directly by truck, but this is currently not possible. Therefore, our supplier has put the linseed in containers and brought them to a railway station. As soon as we know that the goods have crossed the border to the EU, we can be sure to receive them”, says communications manager Eva Kiene.  

But especially for conventional products, which are usually shipped in huge quantities by big vessels, these alternatives are not sufficient. “Organic quantities, which are generally smaller loads, are easier to transport through alternative ways. Against all odds, our operators have so far exported more than 12 thousand tons of organic products since the beginning of the war only by our clients”, says Sergiy. With most men being obliged to defend their country and forbidden to leave it, urgent support is needed to drive the few trucks that are available. “It is already happening that trucks that come to Ukraine with aid supplies leave the country with Ukrainian products. Still, we need much more logistic support”, says Sergiy.  

EU solidarity lanes and suspension of import duties under way 

To ensure that Ukraine can continue to both export and import goods, the European Commission is currently setting up an action plan to establish so-called ‘Solidarity Lanes'. Additional vehicles and vessels will be made available, and a matchmaking logistics platform will be set up to facilitate coordination. When it comes to rail transport, a major challenge is that Ukrainian wagons are not compatible with most EU rail networks. Therefore, goods need to be transhipped to lorries or EU-standard wagons – a problem that can only be solved mid- to long-term. In the meantime, agricultural export shipments from Ukraine shall be prioritised. Malin Hillebrandt from EgeSun has decided to do so: “Unfortunately, since the beginning of the war, our procurement of raw materials from Ukraine has come to a temporary standstill. But we will intensify contacts with our Ukrainian suppliers and prioritise their deliveries as soon as possible.”  

The EU is further planning to suspend import duties on goods entering the EU from Ukraine. Regarding the latter, a spokesperson from the EU Commission has confirmed that a corresponding legislative proposal has been put forward on 27 April and that, as soon as it has been agreed upon, the regulation shall be binding for all EU member states for one year. 

Looking ahead: What the Ukrainian organic sector needs to survive 

Being in regular contact with organic producers in both occupied and unoccupied territory, Sergiy is impressed by the overall stamina and will to continue producing and getting certified: “I recently spoke to two organic producers – one who lives close to Mariupol, the other from the area of Kherson. They refuse to give up but are instead already in the process of moving to unoccupied territory and starting all over again. For many Ukrainian producers, organic is more than just a business!”  

To support organic producers directly, a grant program has recently been set up by the Organic Initiative, a platform of key Ukrainian organic stakeholders, and Green Dossier, Ukraine’s oldest environmental NGO. “Since the beginning of the war, we have already lost about 120.000 hectares of certified organic land, especially in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. 30 per cent of our organic operators have had to suspend their business activities, and 70 per cent require financial support. Especially small and middle-sized producers are struggling to afford certification, paying taxes and salaries, and buying organic inputs”, says Kateryna Shor from Green Dossier who is responsible for the financial and technical set-up of the grant program. “Through this program, we want to help our producers to stay in Ukraine and continue growing organic food. Many of them have experienced terrible tragedies; some were on the verge of death, some have lost their entire businesses. And as per usual, it’s the small-scale producers who suffer the most. That is why we call on our European colleagues to show solidarity with the organic sector of Ukraine and to help us”, adds Olena Deineko from Organic Initiative.
(Ina Hiester) 

Details for donations to the Grant Program “Support of the organic sector in Ukraine”
Green Dossier
Keyword: Charitable Donation Organic Sector Ukraine 
IBAN: UA793510050000026009357865200 

If you would like to discuss further means of helping organic farmers in Ukraine, please contact:
Olena Deineko, Organic Initiative
phone: +380 050 944 1242 / +380 067 103 9694 (WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram)


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