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Monsanto Ukraine

May 26, 2013

Placing my cards on the table – I know nothing about agriculture.

Well almost nothing.  I know how much a new combined harvester costs in Ukraine as I lent the wife’s cousin half the cost of one, as he is a crop farmer with a lot of land just outside Nikoliev and needed a new harvester – but that really is about it – aside from an O level in biology and some general knowledge relating to an awareness that Ukraine has the most fertile soil in Europe.

As regular readers will know, I try and stay away from the main stream media stories and write about things that remain “off the radar” but really should have more coverage in my view.

Ten days ago, I almost blogged about a statement from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) relating to Ukraine.  I was going to comment on it because it seemed so unnecessary.  The USDA stated:

“In the 2013/2014 marketing year, which begins July 1, the major grain exporters, among them Ukraine, will show double-digit growth rates in the production and export of food and feed wheat and corn.

In the production of corn (+24%, 26 million tons) Ukraine will rise by two lines – from eighth to sixth, and in the production of coarse grains (+17%, 34.5 million tons) by one line (from eighth to seventh). By the export of corn and forage Ukraine this season will join the three world leaders, surpassing Argentina and Brazil, the report says.

The USDA forecasted that global grain harvest this season promises to be much better than in the previous year, when crops were affected by drought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects a growth in the production of almost all major crops by 7-13%.

Ukraine, like other post-Soviet grain exporters – Russia and Kazakhstan, will be able to boast of a much greater dynamic. The overall picture for Ukraine this year was not spoiled even by the abnormal snowfall in March – its effect was offset by favorable weather conditions for planting and expansion of arable land.

Wheat harvest in Ukraine will grow, as predicted by USDA, 40% to 22 million tons. According to this index, the country will stay in the ninth place in the world.”

“Well, and?” I thought –  Aside from competition for US farmers, possible agricultural machinery import and a bit of a lift for the Ukrainian government, the point of that statement is what?   Perhaps an indirect pointer to the $ billions China has been spending on agricultural infrastructure throughout Ukraine for the US Government?  If so why not just tell them?

Having blogged about Chinese investment in Ukrainian agricultural infrastructure a few times – and knowing nothing about agriculture other than that stated at the beginning – I let the USDA statement pass and blogged about something else that day instead – but decided to keep my eye on US agricultural interests in Ukraine for a month or so just in case it was a “feeder” for a forthcoming announcement relating to grain and crop farming with US/Ukrainian interest.

Well, I didn’t have to wait long.

Two days ago, the worrisome organisation that is US GM seed giant Monsanto announced it was going to invest $140 million in a corn seed plant in Ukraine – probably located in Vinnytsya.  It claims for non-GM seeds.

As it happens Ukrainian law forbids GM crops either being imported or grown in Ukraine – and long may that ever be the case.

The new seed plant is envisaged to be ready by August (ish) 2015, working with only conventional seeds.  All jolly good as far as FDI, employment, agricultural storage and export and economics are concerned – and just as, if not more important, Ukrainian agriculture remains GM free.

But I am troubled.

The reply of Vitaliy Fedchuk of Monsanto Ukraine, when asked whether there were expectations that the laws would change is diversionary.

“Indeed, in Ukraine only conventional seeds are allowed for production and importation, thus we will be working with conventional seeds only.”

That does not answer the question of whether Monsanto anticipates a change in the laws relating to the import of and growing of GM seeds in Ukraine.  It simply affirms the laws today.

Does the answer perhaps lay with the outcome of any presidential elections on 29th March 2015 when it comes to the willingness of any president to sign any proposed changes to the current law that may yet get proposed?

I surely hope not, as I would be delighted for Ukraine to remain GM production free – but something to keep a very watchful eye on in 2015/16.

This at a time when world-wide protests against Monsanto take place!

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