Ukraine’s deputy agri minister: Winning the war, unblocking ports only way to restore grain exports

Markiyan Dmytrasevych is Ukraine's deputy agriculture minister focusing on trade. [Dmytrasevych]

This article is part of our special report Food security in times of crisis.

Despite an adequate and friendly global response, the only option to restore grain exports from Ukraine is to win the war as Russia can not be trusted in any plan aimed at unblocking seaports in the South of the country, Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Markiyan Dmytrasevych is Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister focusing on trade. He spoke to EURACTIV’s agrifood reporter Yaroslava Bukhta.

Last month, the EU came up with the idea of ‘solidarity lanes’ to improve Ukraine’s grain export. What’s your take on this initiative?

First of all, these ‘solidarity lanes’, these directions that they have outlined, are, in fact, what we have been talking about with them for two months: the problems we have had and we have already solved in some part.

We brought these issues to the EU and they summarised them quite correctly and laid them out on paper. These are the right things and they respond adequately. Solidarity lanes are a healthy, right response from those countries that understand the scale of the problem that may arise in the world.

How does this solidarity from the EU work in practice?

Let’s take the example of Romania and Poland, the main directions. For instance, restrictions on transportation permits have been lifted and we have agreed with the Polish on the transit of grain through the EU only with a single documentary check, namely without the need to check each car, take samples and so on. The transit through Poland started on 31 May and this week we are assessing how well it worked.

But in general, how has been so far the global response to this crisis?

Reactions are adequate, friendly, and correct. However, the European partners are well aware that no matter what we do or how we simplify it, you will not make a Ukrainian grain truck with a wide track go on a narrow track. You will not manage to do it physically.

And even if you change the wheels, it would stop on the first passenger ferry at the first station where it would pass, as it simply does not pass the dimensions. We stuck into physical capabilities, not bureaucratic or documentary. And as much as we would like, last month [we exported] 1.7 million tons by all possible means in the current situation. Ideally, [we could keep exporting] 2-2.2 million a month, but that would not solve the problem. In the same period before the war, we exported 5 million tons and more.

Indeed, some Ukrainian MPs criticised the concept of ‘solidarity lanes’ as, although well prepared, they do not provide enough export.

It is obvious, everyone understands it. Whatever we do, we will not be able to rebuild logistics totally. Europeans will not be able to do that too. You understand the amount of investment – to build a railway, to build grain trucks, – this is something too complicated. But we are trying to find a solution.

So the crucial factor is unblocking the ports.

We need to understand the Ukrainian side. Ukrainian farmers and Ukrainian grain traders have to sustain an additional cost of $100 per ton [without unblocking ports]. This cost is included in the price. Accordingly, the same trader cannot buy grain from a Ukrainian farmer for adequate money. We have a situation where world prices are soaring and Ukrainian domestic prices are very low. And without unlocking the ports, this problem cannot be solved.

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Meanwhile, harvesting time is getting closer. How to tackle this issue?

The problems of the summer harvest are now superimposed on all this. We will start harvesting in July, and we will have a shortage of storage facilities because according to various estimates, there are about 10 million tons of storage capacity in the occupied territories. We did not take out the grain of last year’s harvest, we will have nowhere to stock this year’s harvest, and farmers can not sell their products. Accordingly, they will not receive funds.

The first consequence is that, if they don’t get the money, they can’t afford the next planting campaign. And, secondly, the farmer will think to himself: I will not sell last year’s harvest, so this year’s harvest I sadly half-stocked somewhere, saved in some temporary way, and I have no money. Why should I plant next year?

You mentioned temporary storage. Does Ukraine have any plan for the nearest harvest, taking into account, that there are three weeks left before it?

In 3 weeks only the harvest begins, we have up totwo months. We have plans. First, the methods of temporary storage known to Ukrainian farmers – the so-called plastic bags, which can put 200,000 tons, which are just waiting for their time, are the first such quick alternative.

The second is foreign technology – temporary silos. Roughly speaking, it is a floor on the ground so that moisture does not penetrate, such as a rim on top, and a tent. We are now actively working with the US, Canada and other partners who have this technology that they use, and we are negotiating. I think one way or another we will solve the problem, but it does not solve the global problem.

Therefore, the only way to solve the situation is to win the war and unblock the ports. But the United Nations are working on that, from what I know. But we don’t really want to believe Russia. Even in the case of military convoys, imagine the cost of such transportation. And the risks in a mined sea.

And what is the situation with military convoys escorting grain ships?

From what I know, the UN is working on that. It’s hard to say about the success.

EU leaders to consider ‘all available ways’ to bypass Russian food export blockade

EU leaders will consider all available ways to circumvent the food export blockade imposed by Russia on Ukraine’s ports, including a naval mission to escort cargo ships, but will not concede to Russia’s demands to lift sanctions, sources told EURACTIV.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/]

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