War in Europe
The impact of the Russian war of aggression on Ukrainian livestock production

Many Ukrainian farmers have lost their cattle and pigs because of the war

Many Ukrainian farmers have lost their cattle and pigs because of the war

© picture alliance / ZUMAPRESS.com | Carol Guzy

According to the Ukrainian Statistical Office, Ukrainian farmers kept a herd of more than 1.6 million cattle before Russia’s invasion. In the first three months of the war alone, Ukrainian dairy farms lost at least 50,000 cattle. The value of the livestock lost so far is estimated at over $136 million. Still, herd deaths continue to mount with no end in sight. According to a comparatively optimistic business forecast, losses could be limited to 70,000 cattle by the end of the year. In the worst case, however, experts estimate that more than 100,000 animals could fall victim to the war. This depends on the situation at the front and the liberation of occupied Ukrainian territories. But what is driving the livestock deaths?

Hunger and diseases

Since the full-scale war began on February 24, conditions for Ukrainians have been catastrophic - and that includes Ukrainian farmers and dairy processing enterprises. In the occupied regions, work cannot continue because civilians risk being caught in the crossfire of the warring parties or because the aggressors deliberately target them with violence. On the livestock farms, this also means that simple routine tasks such as delivering feed to the animals or mucking out stalls become impossible. In addition, the collapse of the infrastructure makes it impossible to deliver and prepare the necessary fodder for livestock. The situation in the dairy industry is particularly precarious. In highly efficient and modern dairy farms, cows must not only be fed but also milked at least twice a day. If milking does not take place, the udders overload, which can cause inflammation and other health problems. Especially the inflammations, if not treated properly, lead to an agonizing death of the affected animals.

When such health problems occur in herds in peacetime, veterinary care is quite capable of averting the worst. Not so since Russia's invasion. Farms quickly ran out of medical supplies. Anything that could also be used to treat wounded soldiers and civilians - antibiotics, bandages and disinfectants - was now used at the front instead of in the stables. There was no chance to deliver further supplies because the infrastructure was increasingly destroyed. The shelling of civilian supply transports and human and veterinary medical personnel by Russian troops in violation of international law is doing the rest.

Mines and unexploded ordnance

In eastern Ukraine in particular, the war has been fought from the outset primarily with the large-scale use of artillery. Russia is currently using more than 50,000 shells per day - the Ukrainian armed forces are much more restrained in returning artillery fire due to the lower availability of ammunition. Although most of these grenades explode upon hitting the target area, this is by no means certain for all of them. As a result, some of the explosive devices remain at the point of impact and might still detonate. These so-called unexploded ordnances are not the only dangers. There are also intentionally placed explosive mines of both warring parties, aimed at blocking the passage to critical points of interest. Additionally, there are deliberately hidden anti-civilian booby-traps, installed by the Russian occupiers upon retreat from liberated areas. In the course of the war, Ukraine has become one of the most heavily mined and ordnance-laden countries in the world.

In the mainly agricultural expanses of eastern Ukraine, this means that entire areas of land cannot be farmed in the medium term. The risk of coming across a live shell or mine while harvesting or tilling the fields would be too high. It will take a long time to clear the fields, so large areas cannot be farmed anytime soon. For the same reasons, they will also remain unusable as grazing areas for livestock for a long time. This, of course, has fatal consequences for future forage availability. In addition, many animals fall victim to direct fighting. They either succumb directly to injuries sustained from the combat or die of shock caused by explosions and the resulting chaos.

Interrupted supply chains and collapsed markets

But the war, of course, not only worsens the supply for the herds but also hinders the exploitation and distribution of agricultural products. With the onset of the invasion, dairy processing companies in Ukraine had to adapt to new realities and challenges. Along the entire value chain, the consequences of the war made themselves felt. Whether at the farms themselves, the dairies, the processing stages, the trading network or the export companies, delays and failures have been on the agenda everywhere since the start of the war.

Moreover, Ukraine was the first country in Europe to completely abandon Russian gas and petroleum products. Accordingly, fuel supplies also became scarce. What initially only led to long queues at gas stations later brought traffic to an almost complete standstill. Naturally, the transport of perishable dairy products was also affected. Consequently, delivery costs rose enormously.

Another problem prevents exports by sea. The Russian occupiers have blockaded the Ukrainian ports through which a significant portion of food exports was handled. In the past, 90% of Ukraine's agricultural exports were shipped through the seaports of Odesa and Mykolaiv alone. Without the sea route, Ukraine is hardly in a position to exploit its full export potential.

Particularly in view of the fuel shortage, the land-based export of the enormous trade volumes could falter in the face of international competition. And yet, European neighbours are providing support where they can. For example, Poland has significantly increased the number of customs officers at the Ukrainian border and switched to a three-shift operation. No stone is left unturned in order to sell Ukrainian products on the world market. Nevertheless, due to the high volume of traffic at the border, there are long queues. For perishable goods such as dairy products, this is a major problem.

The United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada have abolished import duties on Ukrainian goods. The volume of dairy exports to the EU and the UK might increase as a result of the abolition of tariffs. However, given the complex logistics and existing contractual relationships, it is difficult to predict specific trade volumes. What is certain, however, is that the prices for dairy products are rising across the world. The war in Ukraine is a decisive factor, partly due to Ukraine’s important peacetime role as an exporter of animal feed. Feedstuff accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of the costs in milk production. The export difficulties of Ukrainian agricultural products are therefore now making themselves felt elsewhere.

Where do we go from here?

In Ukraine, farmers and dairy processing companies continue to try to maintain supplies. This also applies to the production of feed for domestic herds. Anything less would force farmers to cut back on livestock, which would be difficult to restore after a future victory.

The war has united the entire Ukrainian population. Agriculture, as an integral part of the Ukrainian self-image, does its part for the national defence by supplying the troops and the population. After the initial shock, farmers and representatives of the dairy processing companies are realising that they are needed. Everyone feels responsible for the country's food security. As a result, the sector creates jobs and products to feed the Ukrainian people and the world alike. In addition, and perhaps most importantly: Ukrainian agriculture is creating new hope for a better future - not least through the commitment of European partners.

Maximilian Luz Reinhardt is a consultant for business and sustainability at the Liberal Institute of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Tetiana Shyrochenko is Committee Manager of the European Business Association.

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