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The promise and frustration of farming in Ukraine FROM THE HIP  Ukraine has great potential, but it will be difficult to realize BY BRENDA SCHOEPP Regular columnist Brenda Schoepp was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship this year, and is visiting several countries to learn more about the role of women in agriculture.


ith a land base similar to Canada, Ukraine is considered one of the future breadbaskets of the world. The deep, rich soil, irrigation, river and port access and temperate climate all point to the land of opportunity. Our Nuffield team had mixed emotions about Ukraine when they visited in October. The opportunity in the land was apparent and the successful businesses were very enthusiastic, but the underlying corruption bubbled through the earth and left a feeling of general sadness. To succeed in agribusiness in Ukraine takes a special breed of entrepreneur. Domestic and international businessmen stressed the importance of working with small, domestic companies and taking time to develop the needed network. Those visionaries who understand that it takes time and that there are levels of corruption can develop state-of-the-art industries. For example, Ukraine now has the largest cold storage for vegetables in the EU area. This is important because to do agribusiness in Ukraine you need to look at value adding to avoid the risk of ever-changing export bans. Although corn is the principle field crop there are others

including sugar beets, vegetables, fruits and vineyards and soybeans. Irrigation channels built in the 1950s are important but many of the other structures, such as the large communist-built storage sheds are empty. The agricultural opportunity is huge in this land of rich black soil, rivers, ports and sunshine, but the infrastructure is outdated and in poor repair. The growth of farms depends entirely on the negotiation with small landholders. A typical example was a host who had to negotiate 3,800 annual land leases to secure 10,000 hectares. Lease rates are $30 to $60 per hectare with production at two tonnes per hectare (30 bu./ ac.) on wheat. As there remains a moratorium on foreign ownership, the rebirth of the land market is unlikely to occur.

Women disadvantaged

Perhaps more than anywhere our scholars had travelled, Ukraine seemed to hold the least in terms of hope for women. Linda Eldridge, an Australian who has looked at agriculture in dozens of countries, summed up the experience by saying, “I found that the women here had less hope than in any other country we had been to, we didn’t see many women in high-paid positions and saw most women in labouring jobs that again were the lowest-paid positions in society.” In a conversation after our visit she remembered the desperation of women who looked for some faint hope

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Women make up the Ukrainian farm workforce. to “get out” and be released from the weight of a society that just could not move ahead. As we find worldwide, labour woes plague the industry and Ukraine has its share of lost production and harvesting due to labour shortages. Women make up the workforce and although they are treated poorly, remain the foundation for growth in Ukrainian agriculture. Keeping costs under control will offset some of the massive inflation which keeps strides with return on investment and will help to put the value in value added. Until there is liberalization within the country and a struc-

ture that allows business to flourish without massive risks and huge administration costs, Ukraine will be limited to those who have no fear and are capable of working the layers of corruption and do not get distracted by the general lack of interest from government and industry. All people deserve freedom. The freedom of choice, the freedom of movement, the freedom of access to health, water and food so they grow, prosper, embrace and enjoy their lives. They do not need and never deserve to be entwined or chained to old ways that become their prisons and to governments that become their lords.

Australian Nuffield scholar Linda Eldridge says Ukrainian women have less hope than those in any other country she has visited. Brenda Schoepp is a market analyst and the owner and author of Beeflink, a national beef cattle market newsletter. A professional speaker and industry market and research consultant, she ranches near Rimbey, Alberta. brenda. or www.

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