Sunday, May 22

Can Russia save Ukraine's farmers from an awful fate?

Black Soil

I didn't notice these reports from March 2019; at the time I was still focused on the Syrian War: 

Zelensky Administration Prepares to Sale Ukrainian Land to Transnational Corporations - SouthFront 

And so I didn't notice the news in April 2020: Farmland in Ukraine – Zelensky enacts law on sale from July 2021 — UNIAN, which the site presents as good news for Ukrainians ("
The law will enable the realization of citizens' constitutional rights to dispose of their property freely." That omits all the fine print, which is awful news for Ukranian farmers.  

I'm now noticing as of a few hours ago, when I came across an article written anonymously for a Russian Telegram channel site called The Right People. I am republishing the entire article including two photos but minus the several helpful charts and maps, which are large and clear enough to be read easily.

Black Gold: It's not what you think ... – Telegraph

The Right People ( Telegram Channel) May 21, 2022

As I am sure you have heard, trouble and famine are coming, the war has caused Russia and Ukraine, two of the world's largest food exporters, to stop or partially stop their export flow, why are these two lands so fertile?

The secret of the plantations, of their success, lies largely in their soil. The most fertile soils for cultivation are generally known as Mollisols, which occupy 7% of the ice-free surface of the Earth.

These soils are characterised by a thick black top layer or A horizon, the "chernic horizon", which must be at least 25 cm thick and is rich in decomposed plant material and therefore contains a lot of humus and carbon. In Ukraine, the thickness of the chernic horizon can reach several metres. This soil is known in Ukraine and Russia under the name of Chernozems "black ground".

As I said these lands fed the Russian Empire, the disruption of production caused the brutal famine commonly known as the holomodor.

The productivity of this land is so great and the land itself is in such demand that the sale of agricultural land has been illegal in Ukraine since 1992 until the ban was lifted in 2020, but the land, transported by truck, could be sold and bought illegally. 

According to the NGO "Green Front", the black market for illegally acquired chernozem in Ukraine reached approximately 900 million dollars a year in 2011. [1]

[Because of] This fact, the change of the land law in 2020 by Zelensky's executive [decree] was highly controversial [in Ukraine] and some point to one of the reasons why his popularity began to decline, as all this land was now open to exploitation by large landowners and foreign companies.

Russia, too, is a major food producer, and not surprisingly, Russia's most productive lands are those adjacent to Ukraine, although thanks to climate change these are increasing. These lands are inside the "black soil" belt that extends almost until Siberia as we saw.  [Map]

Ukraine has more than 41.5 million hectares (or 102.5 million acres) of agricultural land that cover 70% of the country. In 2020, Ukraine’s agriculture sector generated approximately 9.3% of GDP. Crop farming, which accounts for 73% of agricultural output, dominates Ukrainian agriculture, according to the International Trade Administration.

The country’s main crops are sunflowers, corn, soybeans, wheat and barley. Globally, Ukraine ranks:

1st in global sunflower production (For 2021/22 Ukraine sunflower seed production is estimated at a record 17.5 MMT)

6th in global corn production. (For 2021/22 Ukraine corn production is estimated at a record 42 MMT)

6th in global barley production

7th in global rapeseed production

9th in global soybean production

9th in global wheat production

This year Ukraine was forecast to account for 12% of global wheat exports, 16% for corn, 18% for barley and 19% for rapeseed. The share of agriculture in export revenues for Ukraine increased from 26% in 2012 to 45% in 2020 amounting to $22.2 billion.

As far as meat is concerned, Ukraine is not particularly strong in any one type of meat, although Russia is a major pork producer and the sanctions may affect the rest of the world.

In summary we can expect:

Crop Trade Effects

• Major disruptions in the World Wheat Market

• Significant disruptions in the World Corn Market

• Smaller direct disruptions in the World Soybean Market

Livestock Trade Effects

• Much smaller effects than the crop effects

• Most significant in poultry for both Ukraine and Russia

• More significant for Russia in the pork industry

• Smaller significance in the Beef and Dairy sectors

Strategic importance

[Three Maps -- Locations of Ukraine Corn, Soybean and Wheat production]

As we can see, most of the country's agricultural production is concentrated in central Ukraine, although the south also stands out, especially in cereals, where Russia is already the world's largest exporter. 

The human population will continue to grow, especially in places where the land is not the most productive, such as sub-Saharan Africa. As we are seeing, this gives great power to the food exporters, so it is to be expected that this Russian strength will grow greatly [with the Ukraine invasion], although the extent depends on how much land is captured or under indirect Russian control.

Western Ukraine is not very productive either industrially or agriculturally. So unless the EU is able to bring factories there after the war (I assume these areas will not be under any kind of Russian influence) expect them to be even poorer areas than they are today as they will lose the industrial base of the East and maybe the central agricultural one.

As always, I have tried to keep the text short but informative. I hope you like it and don't forget to subscribe to my telegram channel:


1)  Pundita note: The quote seems to be taken almost verbatim from this article on black soil:  Chernozem - Wikipedia, which questions whether the Green Front NGO is a reliable source.  All I've found so far about the NGO is that they have a Facebook page, most of which is in what I assume is Ukranian language:

While the 2019 ABC report I linked to puts a positive spin on the proposed new law, the SouthFront one closes with this grim observation: 
The developments of the Zelensky administration are a brilliant demonstration of that how populist ‘pro-people’ rhetoric can be used to promote interests of foreign powers and corporations."


Can the Russians stop what will surely happen next to Ukraine's farmers?  The Russians already have their hands full in Ukraine and have more than enough of their own black soil -- that last a point the ABC report didn't mention.

But I think it's certain that if this story gets enough coverage, Zelensky's government will not have one friend among the world's anti-globalists and those who don't want to see what has already happened to many African farmers repeat in Ukraine. SouthFront made a pass at describing some of it in the report I linked to, but that is not the half of what is by now an old and predictable chain of events once international agriculture companies buy off governments.  


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