Thursday, 26 January 2017

Ukraine’s Agriculture Minister sees restoring irrigation as key

Ukraine’s Minister of Agriculture, Taras Kutoviy attended the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture conference in Berlin last week where he raised the perennial Ukrainian suggestion that to increase grain production it is necessary to restore the old soviet era irrigation system.

The Minister said "With the restoration and development of irrigation systems, Ukraine will have opportunities to increase grain production to 100mmt per year (from current 60mmt) and to increase food sufficient to [feed] 400-500 million people.”

Those figures are optimistic and the Minister is putting a lot of faith in irrigation, but it seems the Ukraine government is on the way to securing cash as, with agreement of the World Bank, they have established a coordinating council to develop a strategy to renovate and modernise the irrigation system.

The approved strategy will form the basis of any agreement with the World Bank for finance which the Minister anticipates will begin in 2017.

I might have got this wrong in translation but the Minister appears to be talking of an investment in the order of two billion USD to restore irrigation over 550,000 hectares by 2021, which is an astonishing amount of money.

The Minister clearly has experts who buy in to irrigation, particularly if they can access some of that World Bank finance but in my opinion this is the wrong direction to take Ukraine farming.

I would argue the best investment Ukraine can make is teaching farmers how to grow dryland crops by measuring available water, establishing yield potential, adjusting inputs accordingly and implementing minimal cultivation and direct drilling techniques.

It would be more effective than irrigation, further reaching, significantly less to implement than two billion USD and I know someone who is already doing it in Ukraine with great success.