Russia’s war of aggression has had a significant impact on Ukraine’s agricultural sector, the ripples of which are being felt as far away as the Middle East and North Africa, Rodrigo Santos, head of the Crop Science Division at Bayer AG, told the CEPA Forum on September 27.
In a conversation with Sam Greene, director of the Democratic Resilience Program at CEPA, Santos discussed the importance of agriculture in Ukraine — often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe — in global food security and the role of the international private sector in supporting Ukraine’s agriculture recovery.
Santos said the scale of the damage caused by the war is extensive, and it will take years to fully recover. The war has caused large-scale displacement of farmers, rendering vast tracts of agricultural land inaccessible or abandoned; many agricultural facilities, including grain silos, have been damaged or destroyed, impacting storage capacity; transportation routes, particularly those leading to Ukraine’s vital ports along the Black Sea, have been disrupted resulting in difficulties in exporting agricultural products; and the presence of mines in agricultural areas poses a threat to farmers and hinders agricultural recovery efforts.
Santos said the impact of the war on agricultural exports has been even higher in the second year of the conflict because of Russia’s withdrawal on July 17 from the Black Sea grain agreement — the deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, aims to ensure safe shipments from Ukraine’s ports. Russia has said it will view any vessels in the Black Sea heading toward Ukrainian ports as military targets. Ukraine has sought to redirect transport through the Danube River and road and rail links into Europe.
“The Black Sea agreement needs to be in place. We need to allow farmers to export the grain outside of Ukraine, we need to help them to do that,” Santos said, pointing to the impact the war in Ukraine has had on food security in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Greene noted that the estimates for the cost of reconstruction in Ukraine range from $300bn to more than $1 trillion. “Clearly, governments are not going to be able to cover the entirety of that cost. There is a role that’s going to need to be played by the private sector,” he said.
Private sector investment, partnerships, and digital agriculture advancements are crucial to helping Ukraine regain and potentially surpass its previous position in global agriculture, Santos acknowledged. Despite ongoing challenges, companies like Bayer are committed to investing in Ukraine’s agriculture sector to address global food security and climate change challenges.
“At the end of the day,” Santos said, restoring Ukraine’s agricultural sector “will take years.” But, he noted optimistically, “I feel that everything is in place to not only take the position they had” but to go beyond this.
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