Erin Mackie, Project Director for the Société de coopération pour le développement international, takes stock of the organization's aid programs in Ukraine, still under Russia's yoke, after more than 500 days of war. The fighting continues. Ukrainian forces continue to "repel the enemy with both offensive and defensive operations".
Erin and her colleague Maksym Maksymov, field manager, were in Quebec City, on June 9, for SOCODEVI's 38e annual meeting, where they addressed the participants.
How are Ukraine's grain and dairy projects progressing?
Erin Mackie: SOCODEVI is currently working on two projects funded in part by Global Affairs Canada. The first is We Prosper, in which Maksym and I are involved. The project is being carried out in collaboration with two partner organizations, Dnipro Agricultural Extension Services in Ukraine and the Rural Women's Business Network.
What is We Prosper? What are its objectives?
This is an entrepreneurial development project for Ukraine's rural population. It was set up in the Donbass region before the outbreak of full-scale war. At the time, we were trying to set up agricultural cooperatives. It took us almost a year to convince producers to sign up, see the benefits and become members. The cooperatives finally saw the light of day, but then the full-scale invasion broke out. The We Prosper project had to be reorganized to cope with this situation and provide support to existing cooperatives, rural women and people displaced within the country due to the war. Support is given to women-led family farms and cooperatives in the form of agricultural inputs and equipment for on-farm value-added processing.
What types of production are these cooperatives involved in?
There are dairy, cereal, market-garden and horticultural producers. Very quickly, the Donbass was taken over by the Russians and we could no longer work there. We went into emergency mode, trying to provide support where we could, humanitarian aid, to enable member farmers to resettle in other parts of the country.
How did you get your development projects back on track?
We turned to Global World Affairs to reprofile the project and review the areas in which we were working, so that we now operate in six oblasts across the country. We work mainly with dairy, vegetable and berry producers. We also work with a grain cooperative. This year alone, we supported over 300 dairy farmers who had to rebuild their farms and herds. Much of their equipment was destroyed, lost or damaged. We operate in the Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaïv regions, which are very close to the occupied territories, making the situation all the more difficult.
How many cooperatives do you work with?
We have identified eight cooperatives that are still operating. We're going to help them invest in value-added processing facilities with berry growers, for example, so they can package and export their products. We are also active with dairy cooperatives, so that they can have access to another transport truck to facilitate milk collection and supply to the processing plant. Finally, with the grain cooperative, we're building a mill to produce flour on an artisanal basis, as it's difficult to sell grain on export markets*. It's easier to export a packaged value-added product.
Will the We Prosper project be continued?
The project will continue until 2025. We hope it will be extended beyond that date. Because there's so much reconstruction work to be done. With the Kakhovka dam destroyed, which caused immense damage both upstream, as the water was used for agricultural irrigation in the Dnipro region, and downstream, at Mykolaïv, where access to drinking water for the population was also hampered.
You mentioned two partners. What is the second one and what does it involve?
This is done in collaboration with the Rural Women's Business Network. We help women farmers to develop their entrepreneurial spirit and diversify their activities. They face many problems. With the men at the front, they are often left alone to care for their families and manage the farm business. Preventing violence against women in communities is a major concern for us. The needs are great. We try to meet them as best we can, while supporting agricultural and cooperative development.
Ukrainians remain confident despite the worsening situation?
There is optimism about the counter-offensive that will be launched over the summer. They believe they will win, or at least be able to reclaim parts of the occupied territories. If they don't, they know that the conflict is likely to drag on... They are resisting and remaining stoic in the face of the situation, it's simply incredible. We must also be optimistic and positive, and continue to support them.
Cooperatives hold their ground...
... and are making progress, despite the enormous challenges they face," says Camil Côté, Project Manager for SOCODEVI in Ukraine.
The cooperatives of the Union des coopératives Gospodar are running smoothly, the loans granted to producers have been repaid, the number of active members is steadily increasing, and working capital is holding steady," describes Camil Côté.
Sergii Kurditskyi, General Director of the Union, has secured USAID funding for three other cooperation projects. The most recent, he and his team distributed fertilizer and seeds to 7,500 farmers in 15 provinces across the country. This US$8 million project began on April 4 and was completed in less than 30 days. A real success story," confirms Camil Côté.
Sergii is considering applying for support for a new investment project at the Vasylkyivka cooperative grain elevator, adds Mr. Côté. With transportation difficulties, the need for storage has increased, and the co-op must build two 3,000-ton silos, 3 50-ton silos, install the second conveyor line and finalize the conveyor system for the rail line. All this will cost close to CAN$1 million," informs Camil Côté. USAID could finance 50%. What remains to be done is to convince producers to invest in the project under the current circumstances. Last year, because of difficulties selling wheat, the co-op was unable to empty its silos, and had to refuse to accept sunflower in the fall.
For the first time in the last quarter, the elevator recorded a profit (CAN$20,000). Volumes were lower, but margins better. With the purchase of two vehicles, the coops also gained autonomy over truck transport. What's more, the increased number of traders has boosted the cooperatives' bargaining power.
As for sowing, the abundance of rain delayed work slightly, but conditions were optimal. Farmers sowed more sunflowers and less corn, as transport and drying costs have less impact on oilseeds than on corn. The wheat harvest season began at the end of June. On the commercial front, grain prices are down sharply, by around 50%.
Finally, the small milk cooperatives, members of the Union, are still operating with difficulty, and volumes are down, but trade is continuing," explains Camil Côté. We have completed our milk processing plant in Lviv. We inaugurated it with the Canadian Embassy on July 11. Despite the difficult circumstances, things are moving forward in a sustainable way...".
For several years now, SOCODEVI has been carrying out numerous missions in Ukraine, benefiting some 3,200 farming families.
Header: iStock.com | Anna Koberska