The closer we get to the harvest season, the more often we hear the global community’s statements that Russian aggression in Ukraine is spreading terror and hunger far beyond our country. How the war will affect the world’s food security and the possible ways of dealing with the issue were deliberated at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO’s) 33rd Regional Conference for Europe in Lodz, Poland, from 10-13 May, with delegates from across Europe and Central Asia. Among the many discussions and proposed solutions, one important shared vision shone through: agrifood systems should cease to be viewed in terms of pure production, where “success” is measured only by the amount of harvest and profit produced and earned. Food systems are also about the quality of the food itself, the quality of the environment, and the quality of life. The main task for the next decade is to re-orient the agricultural sector in the region and the world to quality indicators.
New priorities for agrifood systems
The conference participants also debated new priorities for agrifood systems in Europe and Central Asia in line with the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031, which states that these systems should be transformed in four directions that correlate with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
- Better production: Responsible and efficient production and consumption through sustainable and inclusive supply chains, and environmental and climate sustainability of production systems.
- Better nutrition: Ending hunger and ensuring food security and access to healthy food.
- Better environment: Preservation, restoration, and sustainable use of ecosystems, combatting climate change, and adaptation.
- Better life: Inclusive development and economic growth and reduction of social injustice in rural and urban environments among men and women.
These strategic directions have been developed to address the increasingly apparent crises faced by humanity that threaten agrifood systems, including those related to the climate, the environmental, the COVID pandemic, and now also Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Peace is essential to protect people from hunger, and given its global implications for agricultural production, this war has become a top priority for FAO delegates, especially since broken supply chains, limited access to equipment, fuel, and so forth, and direct hostilities are preventing Ukraine from exporting certain important staple food products, while the prices for food and fertilisers have already risen to a record high.
As the effects of this crisis reverberates across the world, it is obvious that Ukraine itself suffers the most. The FAO estimates, for example, that one in five households cannot meet their basic needs, and small farmers need support. As such, the FAO plan calls for $115 million to support nearly a million Ukrainians during this period.
Unsung heroes – Ukraine’s small farmers
Ukrainian farmers, and especially small agricultural producers, are the heroes of the time, as they provide people with food and shelter, and do their work despite the insane risks to their own lives. It is they who do not allow Ukraine’s food system to collapse.
“Small farmers must finally be properly recognised and prioritised in policies and support programmes at the national and international levels. Before the full-scale war, small farmers and rural households produced much of the food for local markets, including more than three-quarters of all potatoes, vegetables, fruits and berries, and a third of animal products,” says Olena Borodina, a civil society representative at the FAO Conference.
However, there are many obstacles in Ukrainian legislation for smallholder farmers to receive the much-needed support. In fact, farms of less than 100 hectares remain outside the state support system. Since the introduction of the system of state subsidies in the agricultural sector in Ukraine, the main recipients of funds have been the largest enterprises – agricultural holdings – contradicting the very concept of “subsidies”, that is, support for those who need it most.
While short production and supply chains have shown flexibility and resilience, even in these terrible times, facilities of large food producers have simultaneously become a target, where the destruction of just one link in a long chain has serious consequences for millions. Perhaps the most striking example is the destruction and blocking of logistics centres, where the raw materials produced are simply impossible to export. We cannot talk about food security when due to the damage of just one link, a long supply chain, on which many countries and millions of people depend, is destroyed. Without viable, decentralised local food systems, we are facing a global food threat.
Indeed, it is the small and family farms that are often guided by the principles of agroecology and are more sustainable and responsible with respect to local communities and the environment. Ukrainian peasants and farmers prove this resilience even during the war. Therefore, policy and financial support should be provided primarily to small producers with short production chains and the application of agroecological principles.
“The issue of environmental sustainability of agriculture is also a matter of food security and rural community development. The greening of agricultural practices should be the basis for the green reconstruction of the agrifood systems of Ukraine. The small-scale farmers with short production chains that adhere to agroecological principles must become the priority for the state. They will ensure food security and sustainable development of agriculture in the region and the world,” says Anna Danyliak, sustainable agriculture development expert, from Ecoaction.
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