The Farmers’ Source of Non-GM Knowledge

Ukraine is known as the «bread basket» of Europe. There are 41.5 million hectares of agricultural land covering 70% of the country. It has an advantageous geographical position, favorable climatic conditions, high soil fertility and hard-working people. All these factors lend great opportunities to Ukraine and Ukrainian agricultural producers on the international market. Since Ukraine sees the EU as the high-value market in its neighborhood, its producers want to fulfil the buyers’ requirements regarding sustainability. This means, among other things, non-GM (non Genetically Modified) production – especially when it comes to soybeans. The soybean is the 4th-largest crop in Ukraine, both for export and on the internal market, due to demand, high prices and Ukraine’s geographical position. The soybean market is highly dynamic, with significant yearly production fluctuation. Exports of soya remain high at all times, worth almost a billion Euros in 2017.

As for the situation with the GMO turnover in Ukraine, it is quite unstable. According to the opinion of different market players and available reports on the GMO situation from NGOs, the share of GM soybean in Ukraine is around 49%. One of the main reasons is weak state control over GMO turnover and lack of appropriate knowledge of farmers regarding non-GM production and its benefits.

Strategic Partnership: Gathering Key Stakeholders

Donau Soja is an organisation that promotes sustainable soya production in Europe, which includes non-GM. It has its headquarters in Austria and field offices in Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine. The Donau Soja activities are aimed at increasing the technological and agronomic knowledge of small- and medium-sized farmers.

This is a key goal of the Strategic Partnership Project “Building sustainable, inclusive and well-functioning value chains for non-GM soya and organic soya in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Ukraine” implemented by Donau Soja and funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA).

In this endeavor, Donau Soja, in cooperation with the leading Ukrainian and international companies engaged in non-GM production, organised a study program for farmers titled “Non-GM soya cultivation: how to grow efficiently and to get high competitiveness” in 5 cities of Ukraine (Vinnytsia, Khmelnytskyi, Sumy, Poltava, Kyiv) in 2018.  The study program was resolved around an actual case of non-GM soya cultivation: 6 soybean varieties on an experimental field (1 ha) in a Ukrainian farming enterprise in the region of Vinnytsia. Such a big area allowed the organisers to present a soya field as it is in real life. The program was elaborated according to the results (yield), it included all cultivation processes and economic components of non-GM cultivation technology. The study program drew the attention of more than 120 farmers from different regions of Ukraine who were intensively involved in discussing topics such as non-GM agro-technology effectiveness, soya fertilisation and best practices throughout the entire event.

Sharing Knowledge, Sharing Success

For the farmers, a crucial aspect was the presence of the experts who personally took part in all processes of cultivating the experimental plots. As speakers, they explained in detail why they made their decisions at each stage of cultivation. They “spoke one language” with the farmers and openly discussed difficulties they faced and the solutions they found. In such an relaxed atmosphere, the farmers could ask any questions they had, such as how to determine GMO in their crops or where to sell their soya. Besides the technological information, farmers also learned about effective financial instruments and agricultural insurance from the international experts.

The feedback confirms that such educational agricultural events are extremely useful and appreciated by the farmers. The study programme on non-GM soya cultivation, providing only useful information and intentionally avoiding promotion attempts by private compaies, became a real source of unique knowledge, a platform for meeting the likeminded people and a place for sharing experiences. This success was an inspiration to develop the concept further and organise similar events with partners such as the ADA.