“A Step Towards Hope”: JICA Supplies Sunflower and Corn Seeds to Support the Recovery and Reconstruction of Ukrainian Agriculture
In the month of April—when the winter breaks and the land begins to sprout—Ukrainian farmers hit the ground running, using tractors to till the soil that is thawing with the temperature rise. “For farmers, their fields are their entire livelihoods. Just by touching the soil, the earth gives them the power to live and even provides them with income,” says Mikhail Malkov, Policy and Programme Adviser for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Ukraine Office, who recently visited Japan along with five officials from the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine. From April 16 to 22, the group toured the areas in northern Japan that were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March, 2011.
Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine was one of the world's leading grain-producers, and was called the "breadbasket of Europe.” Its sunflower oil production was the largest in the world, with the northeastern Kharkivska oblast being one of the leading sunflower producers in the country.
When the invasion began in February 2022, the Kharkivska oblast (administrative division of Ukraine) became a fierce battleground. Due to its location along the Russian border, many residents not only had their homes destroyed, but have also been deprived of daily tools such as farming equipment. Security in the region has significantly deteriorated, and some farmers are reluctant to even approach their own land. “They’ve been robbed of everything, including their hope,” said Malkov. “And even if they have land, they don't have money to buy seeds. The supply chain no longer functions properly, and the farmers are no longer able to do anything.”
The area of sunflower cultivation in the Kharkivska oblast used to be about 573,000 ha, or about 30 percent of the oblast's total farmland, before it was halved by the invasion. According to the Ukraine Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment published by the World Bank in March 2023, the damage and losses to Ukrainian agriculture due to the war in Ukraine represent an estimated US$40.2 billion. Kharkiv was the third most affected oblast in terms of damage.
And also in March 2023, JICA distributed sunflower and corn seeds to farmers in the Kharkivska oblast through the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine and the FAO.
In terms of cultivated area, the 31 tons of sunflower seeds and 64 tons of corn seeds distributed under JICA’s program converted to about 10,000 ha. Although this figure is small, Malkov spoke highly of the effort’s significance. “For the farmers who had lost everything, it had a very large impact,” he said.
Preparation for the distribution of seeds from JICA.
During the April visit to northern Japan with his fellow Ukrainians, Malkov visited irrigation facilities that had been severely damaged by the earthquake. As he engaged in direct dialogue with local residents, he said that he was deeply moved by the people's passion for recovery and reconstruction efforts.
Malkov related one unforgettable interaction he had with a man who had lost his family in the tsunami: “He opened a map and pointed to an empty space saying, “This is where my home was.” Malkov, an Ukrainian himself, pointed out the similarities between the situation of the people who lost everything in Japan and those in Ukraine. “It was very encouraging to see residents love the land where they were born and raised, and work hard for its recovery and reconstruction," he said.
He noted, however, that none of the people he spoke to were living their “pre-disaster” lives. They were all building new lives for themselves after surviving the destructive earthquake. “In Ukraine as well, people's lives will not return to the way they were before the invasion,” he said. But he was able to see firsthand how people have become stronger because of their painful experiences, and observe the “Build Back Better” spirit to create a more livable community.
Malkov said, “Ukraine will likely need a lot of support in the future.” He expressed his gratitude to JICA: “Although the seed distribution is a small step, it is definitely a step towards hope.”