When it comes to food shortages, agri-business expert John Cowan says fallout from Russia’s invasion into Ukraine will be far-reaching.
“I think we’re going to see the longer this war goes on, there will be greater, more incredible problems for people around the world,” Cowan told members of the Rotary Club of Chatham Sunrise recently.
The comments from the former head of Blenheim-based Hyland Seeds and past president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association came during an address to kick off the club’s “Ukrainian Sunrise” fundraiser designed to raise money for humanitarian aid in the war-torn country.
Cowan knows of what he speaks.
In 2015, after retiring from his job at Hyland, Cowan and his daughter Claire founded North American Plant Genetics.
The company entered a partnership with Ukraine-based LNZ Group to bring Canadian- and U.S.-developed corn genetics to the Eastern European country.
The successful collaboration has boosted food production in Ukraine's rich soils.
Cowan, who has spent plenty of time in Ukraine in the past seven years, said the situation is dire. He has not heard from his Ukrainian business partner for two weeks and two containers of NAPG seed destined for Ukraine are on their way back to Canada after the ship was turned away from port.
It’s a difficult situation, he added, because his business contacts in Ukraine have become trusted friends.
While loss of life is the main concern, Cowan said, there’s the added complication of farmers not being able to get on the fields for a number of reasons, including unexploded bombs in some cases.
“I can’t even imagine what they are going through,” Cowan said. “They need our help. They’re proud people. They’re friendly people.”
The growing season is about two weeks ahead of Ontario, Cowan explained, meaning planting is already behind in some areas.
Ukraine’s large farms – a leftover from the collectives of the Soviet Union – are huge compared to Canada.
NAPG’s partner in Ukraine farms a massive 160,000 acres with modern state-of-the-art equipment. However, many small farms of one or two hectares exist and these small plots remain an important food source for the country.
NAPG also operates a seed plant – similar in size to Corteva’s Chatham plant – in Shpola, southeast of the capital of Kyiv in the centre of the country.
As for future food shortages, Cowan said the threat is real. Citing statistics from the United Nations and the World Health Organization, Cowan said world-wide food prices could soar by as much as 22 per cent because of the invasion.
Shortages brought on by the war likely won’t be evident until 2023 and could also lead to a rise in the global number of undernourished people from eight to 13 million.
According to Cowan, the shortages will hit North Africa and the Middle East especially hard, as countries such as Lebanon are nearly 100-per-cent reliant on Ukrainian exports for its food supply.
China is a major importer as well, he said, as is Turkey.
According to Cowan, Ukraine is the fifth largest producer of corn in the world, compared to Canada, which sits at 11th place. Ukraine is the second largest producer of sunflowers and the world’s number one exporter of the crop.
Ukraine is the seventh largest producer of wheat worldwide while Canada is ninth, and it is the eight largest producer of soybeans.
Canada is number seven.
Cowan called the war an “incredible catastrophe,”
noting 4.5 million refugees have left Ukraine, a number equalling 10 per cent of the population.
“That's an incredible mass exodus,” he said.
For more information on the Ukrainian Sunrise project contact, email@example.com. The $5 packets are being sold at various businesses throughout Chatham-Kent.
Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice