The war in Ukraine has reached the one-month mark with the invasion of that country by Russia causing the deaths of hundreds, the displacement of millions, and the upheaval of an entire nation and its economy.

This has spurred the European Union into committing significant humanitarian support and emergency macro-financial assistance.

Yesterday (Wednesday, March 24) the European Commission announced a €500 million support package for farmers and food producers across Europe who are impacted by the conflict due to rising commodity and fertiliser prices.

This will also include assistance to Ukrainian farmers to help them sow corn and sunflower seeds, and tend to wheat that is already in the ground there.

Further assistance will be made available through Polish authorities who have pledged their support in delivering much-needed fuel to Ukrainian farmers so they can sow, fertilise and harvest.

At a press conference, EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, confirmed that the EU would finance that assistance, and he also stated that ports on the Baltic Sea would be made available to Ukrainian farmers also.

Ukraine eager to export

A spokesperson for the EU Commission said that while a narrative may exist that Ukraine is halting all exports, that is not the case.

While there are many challenges facing farmers in Ukraine currently, the EU is working to assist them and to keep exports moving as much as possible.

“We are working very closely with Ukraine and various stakeholders, and we know the challenges that confront the farmers there of how they get the seeds into the ground.

“Currently, the planting of maize and sunflower should be taking place, the wheat is already in the ground – but even the wheat that is in the ground needs its applications of fertilisers.”

The main issues impacting farmers right now relates to the availability of fuel to power their tractors and other machinery – existing supplies have been requisitioned by the own military – as well as availability of seeds, plant-protection products, labour and fertilisers, etc.

The spokesperson said that when the Ukrainian agriculture minister, Roman Leshchenko addressed the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on Monday this week, he was insistent that Ukraine wants to remain in production.

“They don’t want to find themselves in a situation where the progress that they have achieved in the past couple of decades – hugely increasing the efficiency of their agri-food production system – is structurally damaged,” the spokesperson said.

“What they want are the inputs to be able to continue to access our markets – in both directions.”

The spokesperson said that communication is taking place, largely through the main stakeholder organisations – seeds companies, plant-protection companies, and fertiliser companies.

“These work on a global/European scale and all the major suppliers of these products, on a European level, have their operations in Ukraine itself.

“So they have employees, plants and factories and they are working very hard to keep them in operation to ensure that supplies continue there.”

Commenting on worrying reports that had circulated about Ukraine having insufficient seeds for planting, the spokesperson said that the EU has been in contact with the relevant European stakeholders on this matter and that situation has improved substantially.

“The seeds are there but there are still challenges in relation to the fuel for the tractors.”

The spokesperson said that the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, has confirmed that he has intervened with the Polish authorities who are best placed to ensure that these [fuel] supplies are there.

“The Polish authorities are making a share of their own strategic reserve available to meet Ukrainian needs for their agri-food production system,” he said.

“Nobody can pretend that this is not a huge challenge for obvious reasons.

“But we have to remain committed to assisting Ukraine in maintaining its position as a major agri-food producer, not just to keep its own citizens fed but to also service those export markets in developing countries that are dependent on Ukrainian wheat and corn,” he said.