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Europe’s Breadbasket and the Shock Doctrine

February 27, 2023

For the first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war, the Oakland Institute has released a report, “War and Theft: The Takeover of Ukraine’s Agricultural Land,” that examines the recent past and near future of the “breadbasket of Europe.” It begins with the little-known story of how the International Monetary Fund liberalized Ukrainian agriculture with “structural adjustment” terms tied to an $8 billion loan package. Within Ukraine, the 2021 land reforms — which, among other things, ended a 19-year moratorium on the sale of farmland — were fiercely debated, though not much discussed outside the country. Supporting the reforms were the small number of oligarchs and agribusiness concerns that together control nearly 30% of Ukraine’s agricultural land; opposing them were the small and medium-sized farmers who rightly feared increasing marginalization, despite their producing more than 50% of the country’s food, including nearly all potatoes and vegetables and three-quarters of its milk and beef.

“The creation of a land market is likely to expand the amount of agricultural land in the hands of oligarchs and large agribusiness firms,” the report states. “This was the concern of many Ukrainians fearing that, due to the country’s rampant corruption and weak rule of law, small farmers will have few avenues to assert their rights in the face of increasing competition from agribusinesses.”

Shortly after the 2021 reforms were adopted in Kyiv, the war with Russia began, making Ukraine’s already bad debt situation much, much worse. This spiraling wartime debt, the report notes, will provide enormous leverage for Western aid institutions, foreign investors and agribusiness interests to further dominate and reshape Ukrainian agriculture when the fighting ends.