SEATTLE — Ukraine is famous for its vast areas of excellent farmland that, at least theoretically, could feed an untold number of people. Agriculture is also the primary driver of the Ukrainian economy. Sustainable agriculture in Ukraine should be a booming industry that is highly productive. So why, then, does Ukraine have the lowest agricultural productivity in the entirety of Europe?
There are two main obstacles standing in the way of unleashing Ukraine’s full agricultural potential. The first is a lack of innovation. Many Ukrainian farmers are still using outdated equipment and techniques that simply cannot yield as much as more modern techniques and equipment used elsewhere in Europe. This means that there is little sustainable agriculture in Ukraine at present and future prospects are limited unless something catalyzes greater innovation.
The second issue is the fact that land use laws in Ukraine severely inhibit competition, as there is a moratorium on the sale of farmland which has existed since privatization. Additionally, the vast majority of farmland is state-owned. Most small farmers lease the land, which creates insecurity among farmers, who have little trust in the state’s land administration practices.
That being said, efforts are underway to rectify both of these problems and promote sustainable agriculture in Ukraine. Improving agricultural productivity and sustainability are among the top priorities of the United Nations in Ukraine. International actors have begun exerting significant pressure on the Ukrainian government to finish the country’s incomplete land reforms and sell some of the state-owned land to farmers. Doing so would improve competition and make Ukrainian farmers more confident in the economy and the government.
Efforts are also underway to promote innovation in Ukraine’s agricultural sector. There is a booming agricultural technology industry that is beginning to receive substantial support from outside investors. Many of these startups are creating technologies that promise to boost Ukraine’s crop yields and promote sustainable agriculture in Ukraine. These new technologies also promise to enhance efficiency and help Ukrainian agricultural exports to compete on the world market.
Some examples include software that uses time-lapse photography to monitor plant growth and services that use drone photography to predict crop yields from a given piece of land. While investors and entrepreneurs were initially slow to warm up to this new industry, in recent years these new startups have taken off. By 2014, this sector was the largest source of Ukraine’s foreign currency earnings. These new industries and technologies are not only enhancing Ukraine’s agricultural productivity, but its sustainability as well.
There remain significant hurdles on the way to encouraging more sustainable agriculture in Ukraine. Unless significant land reform takes place, major progress is unlikely to happen. Additionally, these new technologies will not benefit those who do not incorporate them into their farming practices. Farmers might forgo these new techniques for a variety of reasons, and so it will be critical to ensure that they do not slip through the cracks or fall behind the rest of the country as these new technologies take hold.
That being said, there exists the potential for a huge expansion in sustainable agriculture in Ukraine once these two issues are resolved. Thus, it is important that the international community continues to support these efforts in order to ensure that Ukraine can become as agriculturally productive as it is in the legends told about it.
– Michaela Downey