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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Ukrainian black earth: global battle for strategic resource

Why are Ukrainians not going to reap benefits from the food crisis?
21 July, 2009 - 00:00
Photo by Mykhailo MARKIV

Do you believe that Ukrainian soil can properly feed you, your family, the whole country, and at least 100 million people other countries to boot? If so, wealth should come not only to the state but also to every individual who is, by the Constitution of Ukraine, a co-owner of the people’s treasures, such as land, earth bowels, etc.

However, the people have already been robbed of most of the mineral resources which yield billions-worth profits to their owners who have “grab-it-ized” mills and mines. What has been left in Ukraine as by far the most important strategic resource is land, now the object of an increasingly fierce struggle.

A British national quality newspaper, The Guardian, recently carried quite a though-provoking article titled “Fears for the world’s poor countries as the rich grab land to grow food” illustrated with an explanatory map which shows a number of poor countries, including Ukraine, and has a descriptive note on those who sell and buy land.

I wonder what percentage of our MPs and officials want to know what the foreign press says and forecasts about Ukraine and whether the president and the premier know what policies that press advises to pursue in the interests of the Ukrainian people. So if they show little interest, I will give a brief account of the article.

The Guardian’s well-known environment editor John Vidal says in the beginning: “The acquisition of farmland from the world’s poor by rich countries and international corporations is accelerating at an alarming rate, with an area half the size of Europe’s farmland targeted in the last six months, reports from UN officials and agriculture experts say.

“New reports from the UN and analysts in India, Washington and London estimate that at least 30m hectares is being acquired to grow food for countries such as China and the Gulf states who cannot produce enough for their populations. According to the UN, the trend is accelerating and could severely impair the ability of poor countries to feed themselves.”

Vidal calls the trend “land-grabbing” and “neocolonialism.” Then the author gives examples of latter-day land-grabbing, such as “Saudi Arabia’s purchase of 500,000ha in Tanzania. The Democratic Republic of the Congo expects to shortly conclude an 8 million-hectare deal with a group of South African businesses to grow maize and soya beans. India has lent money to 80 companies to buy 350,000 ha in Africa. Other countries that have acquired land in the last year include the Gulf states, Sweden, China and Libya. Those targeted include not only fertile countries such as Brazil, Russia and Ukraine, but also poor countries like Cameroon, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Zambia.”

The report says that the land price is only going to rise. Some of the world’s largest food, financial and car companies have invested in land. Alpcot Agro of Sweden bought 120,000ha in Russia, South Korea’s Hyundai has paid $6.5m ( 4m) for a majority stake in Khorol Zerno, which owns 10,000ha in Eastern Siberia, while Morgan Stanley has bought 40,000ha in Ukraine.

“According to a US-based thinktank, the International Food Policy Research Institute, nearly $20 billion to $30 billion a year is being spent by rich countries on land in developing countries,” the article says in conclusion.

Incidentally, this writer has just come back from the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists that lasted for a week in London. A special day was devoted to global food crisis and stability. If you summarize dozens of speeches, the result is that the global food crisis is only in its infancy. A full-scale war for food will start very soon. For, according to the UN, grain requirements will increase 50 percent by 2030 and as many as 100 percent by 2050. Most experts in high-profile organizations forecast that the global population will reach 9.5 billion in the mid-21st century. It will be noted that even today, with 6.5 billion “only,” nature is experiencing tremendous pressure and there is shortage of land and water. Plus the global climate change.

Prof. Ian Crute, a well-known expert, the director of Rothamsted Research (RRes), said in an interview with The Day: “Historically, Ukraine has been one of the world’s breadbaskets, for it is the most fertile land in Europe. Prospectively, Ukraine is becoming an important source of food supplies. Yet the productivity of Ukraine’s agrarian sector is only 50 percent of what it could be. This can be explained by organizational problems, climate change, and soil fertility. I would not like to be a political advisor for Ukraine, but one the most useful things to do could be consolidation of small-scale landowners into large collective associations, where the main investment could be focused on the machinization of production, capitalization, learning skills, and land management.”

Now let us switch from the global to the national. The struggle for Ukrainian lands began long ago. International companies are devising various land acquisition schemes. All one should do to legalize land-grabbing is lift the moratorium on cultivable land sales. Then, in the conditions of democracy and global market, it will be legislatively impossible to strip latifundistas and multinational corporations of the lands that could be used for feeding Ukrainians. There may emerge a situation when Ukrainians will be starving in spite of having the most fertile black earth. James Mace, a well-known researcher of the Ukrainian Holodomor, warned about a new woe in the article “Tragedy in the Making” several years ago. He touched upon an extremely important problem – the consequences of ill-considered land sales. “The villagers, essentially turned back into serfs according to Stalin’s version of social justice, were left with nothing. And now, it seems, they are being prepared for eviction from the land that fed them and their forefathers. Is the writer of these lines the only person in Ukraine who is ready to scream bloody blue murder?” Prof. Mace asks.

This writer has already written in The Day about official visits to Libya which needs our grain, while we need Libyan gas and oil in order to reduce, at least a little, dependence on Russia. Our top officials, including Minister for Agrarian Policies Yurii Melnyk, have said that Ukraine is prepared to offer Libyan companies land for joint production of agrarian items – on the basis of leasing, not sale. But this will only be valid as long as the moratorium on agrarian land sales is in force.

Ukrainian scientists have long been speaking about the value of Ukrainian land as a God-sent strategic resource. Land is the only commodity that does not need to be reproduced, by contrast with oil whose reserves are being exhausted.

Ukraine is a rich state. I wish those we have elected would pursue a policy that will enrich every Ukrainian, not only the elect, such as business clans, MNCs, etc… And why the president is for making land a commodity, the parliament speaker is against it, and the prime minister is still in two minds is the subject of another article.

By Hanna HOPKO, special to The Day