“War and Theft”. Who and Why Is Seizing the Agricultural Lands of Ukraine?
Inna Vedernikova, Politics Department Editor at ZN.UA
The price of the question is the loss of economic independence
After the Ukrainian authorities opened the land market in the spring of 2020 and at the same time prevented farmers from building up their muscles by curtailing their financial support programs, it became obvious that the state, developing agriculture, would rely on agricultural holdings according to the Latin American version. Unfortunately, it not only relies on big business and forms a new cluster of agro-oligarchs, but also gradually displaces the rural middle class from the country's economic map. In fact, it weakens rural communities, making the overwhelming majority in the country. Such an approach to solving the case is nonsense for Europe, where we are going to enter under an accelerated procedure.
In order to immediately systematize the problem, let's record three important blocks, which we actually emphasized in the conversation with the honorary president of the Association of Farmers and Private Landowners of Ukraine (AFPLU), Mykola Stryzhak.
Firstly, the war, which became a test, a trigger, an essence that highlighted all the details of the crisis in agriculture and state policy in this area. While agricultural holdings were busy saving their treasures abroad, it was the farmers who sowed and harvested crops under fire, essentially pulling the country out of the food crisis.
Secondly, the People's Forum of Farmers and Private Landowners was held in Ukraine for several months, in the final meeting of which almost all specialized institutions of the European Union took part and declared their support, as well as key scientists of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine. There is already a resolution with which the Forum participants appealed to the president, parliament and government with the demand to change the paradigm of agricultural development, prioritizing family farming, and suspend the sale of land during the war.
Thirdly, the executive director of the American Oakland Institute, Anuradha Mittal, wrote a letter to the heads of key global financial institutions — the IMF, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) — which is posted on the Association of Farmers and Private Landowners of Ukraine website. It has a link to a principled and hard-hitting report with the telling title "War and Theft: The Seizure of Ukraine's Agricultural Lands" with an emphasis on the fact that Ukraine was mistakenly/or not — under the pressure of transnational corporations that invest in Ukrainian agricultural holdings — encouraged to enter an ill-considered and unprepared land market. The price of the question is the loss of economic independence.
So, while Russia on the external front is biting off our lands by force of weapons, on the internal front they are being taken away with the help of the dollar.
Are Ukrainians dying at the front for this?
— Here in front of me is a letter from the executive director of the American Oakland Institute, Anuradha Mittal, written to the heads of key global financial institutions — the IMF, the World Bank, EBRD. It has a link to a principled and hard-hitting report with the telling title "War and Theft: The Seizure of Ukraine's Agricultural Lands" with an emphasis on the fact that Ukraine was mistakenly/or not — under the pressure of transnational corporations that invest in Ukrainian agricultural holdings. Apart from that, it also states that our country was driven to an ill-conceived and unprepared land market.
The report clarifies that the largest landowners in Ukraine are a mixture of our oligarchs and various foreign interests, mainly European and North American, including the USA private equity fund and the Public Investment Fund (PIF), or the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. The report lists our (Kernel, UkrLandFarming, the PrJSC MHP, "Astarta", "Nibulon", System Capital Management) and foreign companies (NCH Capital, PIF Saudi, Arabia, SALIC and others), funds that invested in key Ukrainian players ( Vanguard Group, Kopernik Global Investors, BNP and others), plus the banks (EBRD, EIB, IFC) that give them loans and therefore can influence them. Do you agree with the experts' conclusions?
Everything is even deeper and worse. The fact is that the businesses of Verevskyi, Kosyuk, Bakhmatyuk and others were already started as part of transnational corporations. The Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine, Mr. Solskyi (he is also the ex-head of the specialized committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine) is also a part of multinational companies, only in Ukraine. And he, now working in the government of Ukraine — and the authorities entrusted him with this! - represents the interests of transnational corporations. Therefore, the corporations definitely do not need to put pressure on Solskyi, he is theirs anyway. Another question: why does the President make a strategic decision and appoint a personally interested person to the state position of minister?
— Because Ukraine is the most third indebted country in the world. Because it is really possible to put pressure on the weak, corrupt, non-self-sufficient and dependent on tranches.
— Listen, Inna, as the president of the Association, I was a participant in the Groysman government's negotiation processes with the world financial institutions, to which, in fact, the executive director of the Oakland Institute wrote his letter. What happened next? EBRD really immediately and honestly said that they are starting to invest with 100 million or more. And we don't have a single person who is ready to master 100 million. Only Bakhmatyuk and Kosyuk. Which they actually did. The IMF colleagues did not talk to us at all. But we constantly communicated with the experts of the World Bank. And we finally convinced them that the land market should be implemented, but not in 2019, as the World Bank wanted, but in 2021. Because the farmers needed time and financial support to buy the land in time. And the World Bank agreed. In addition, the management of the bank even promised to allocate money to us, and the government gave guarantees. All this was recorded in the state program of preparation for the inclusion of land sales.
— So do you think that Zelenskyy's team should have simply continued the dialogue and defended the state interest?
— Well, of course! This is not some kind of a private structure, but a state. There must be continuity of state policy. During the election process, Zelenskyy's team and I agreed everything, and the new government was fully informed. At the first stage, representatives of the Kyiv School of Economics, led by Mr. Mylovanov, communicated with us. He planned to continue the discussion with the World Bank. He knew about the sum of 360 million euros and that if we were successful, they would give another billion a year later. However, for some reason, the country's chief economist somehow unexpectedly turned into the chief advocate of the urgent opening of land sales. Everything else is insinuation.
— Experts from the Oakland Institute write that the World Bank is currently allocating 5.4 million dollars to support small farmers. Which is a small amount compared to the billions it pours into agricultural holdings, supporting Mr. Kosyuk.
—We haven't seen that money yet. But the state itself made a choice, namely opening the land market. What claims can there be to the World Bank? So the experts from the Oakland Institute had only a little left to get to the truth. But the direction was right.