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Not a Grain of Truth in Ukrainian Farmland Claim

August 22, 2022

As the World Bank calls on nations to boost food production to combat the global food security crisis exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a conspiracy is festering on social media.

It lays the blame for the food crisis at the feet of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, claiming he has sold off 17 million hectares of farmland to US corporations.

But the claim is baseless. Ukraine’s strict laws governing the sale of agricultural property don’t allow foreign companies to own land, and the author of an article used to back the claim has declared it fake news.[…]

The cited “Veronica Ivonne” post was published on July 31, also quoting the ANR report, which in turn was published on May 27. The report makes the same claims but an “Editor’s note” at the bottom of the article has since been added, saying: “The 17 million hectares quoted was an error and its 1.7 million. Note the alleged companies don’t hold the land in their names but via investment funds.”

None of the posts or the ANR report provides any evidence to support the claim. However, some of the posts, including the Ivonne tweet, link to an external article sourced to the Oakland Institute, a California-based policy think tank, and to authors Frederic Mousseau and Ben Reicher.

The August 2021 Oakland Institute article does not make the claim and instead states the sale of agricultural land to foreign companies is outlawed. Article co-author Frederic Mousseau, policy director with the institute, told AAP FactCheck the claim was “fake news”.

“It seems highly unlikely that the president could sell any significant amount of land,” he said in an email.

Mr Mousseau said Ukrainian law prohibited such sales, and even if it was allowed, the companies named do not buy large tracts of land.

“The story of 17 million owned by US firms sounds like fake news, which distracts from the important fact that US and European firms and investment funds do have significant interests in Ukrainian land and agriculture,” he said.

“There is no doubt that Cargill, Dupont and Monsanto have major business interests in Ukraine (and see major profit opportunities there), but it is not through their direct control of the land.”[…]