February 10, 2015 / 7:19 PM / in 3 years

Farmers in eastern Ukraine feel the bite of conflict

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Food production in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine is set to drop in the coming months, as farmers don’t have regular access to seeds and fertilizers, a U.N. official said on Tuesday.

Some farms surrounding the battered cities of Donetsk and Luhansk lost up to 30 percent of their winter wheat harvest and planting for the spring crop has been badly hit, said Rajendra Aryal, senior emergency coordinator with the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

In peacetime, banks would loan farmers money to buy fertilizer, with the upcoming harvest acting as collateral, Aryal said.

“Now that the harvest could be at risk (because of fighting), banks aren’t providing the loans,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “For many people, agriculture is the only means of earning a living.”

Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia separatists has intensified in the past month.

The official rate of Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, fell to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar on Monday, making fuel and fertilizer inputs more expensive for farmers.

Once known as the “bread basket of Europe”, farming in other parts of Ukraine has not been directly affected by the conflict in the east, Aryal said.

More than one million people, mostly from the east, have been displaced in violence which has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine’s large collective farms were divided up among the peasants.

Today some of that land is farmed in small plots by local families, while other owners lease their land to larger companies.

Because of the hostilities, and the inability to access credit, some of the larger farms are set to face losses, Aryal said, and might not be able to pay rent to small landowners, including pensioners, who depend on the money for survival.

“Without the rent, their lives become a lot more vulnerable,” he said.

Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Ros Russell

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