The war in Ukraine not only causes humanitarian crises and catastrophes. The invasion by Russian troops is having a significant impact on global food security too. Ukraine is the fourth largest producer and exporter of agricultural goods in the world. Much of the region, if not the world, depends on agriculture in Ukraine, farmers being able to sow, grow and harvest crops every season. The war now created an acute stop to that routine. The possible failure, or at least a large reduction in output is literally a matter of life and death. Not just for Ukraine, but for many countries that depend on Ukrainian food production.
The role of Ukraine in feeding the world
Ukraine is one of the largest producers and exporters of agricultural products in the world. Based on the 2019-2020 growing season, Ukraine was the second largest grain exporter in the world, after the United States. The reduction of grain from Ukraine, caused by the war, will put a lot of pressure on food availability and affordability.
On April 25, the UK Ministry of Defence tweeted in a regular bulletin that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has significantly disrupted Ukrainian agricultural production.
The reduced grain supply from Ukraine will generate inflationary pressures, elevating the global price of grain, British military intelligence said.
As satellite data is widely used for agricultural purposes, and highly increasing crop yields, could this data support farmers in Ukraine to save as much as possible of the losses of the 2022 growing season?
Reuters shared the UK MOD message, adding: “Ukrainian grain harvest for 2022 is likely to be around 20% lower than 2021, due to reduced sowing areas following the invasion.”
The Ukrainian Agribusiness Club (UCAB) estimates that in 2022 about 13.9 million hectares of spring crops may be sown, which is 75% of the usual area, according to nv.ua. Sowing the fields now is critically important for food security, but has to be done in the face of fierce aggression from Russian troops.
When Farmers Fields Become Minefields
The war in Ukraine demonstrated the deep globalisation of the world. 36 out of 55 countries with a food crisis depend on exports from Ukraine and Russia. The war, which has been going on for two months now, could lead dozens of countries to a food disaster.
A few weeks ago, the Ukrainian authorities reported that the sowing campaign had begun in all regions, except Lugansk. Earlier, it was reported that Russian troops were damaging agricultural infrastructure, while attacks on oil depots disrupt the supply of fuel needed to refuel agricultural vehicles.
At the same time, the government of Ukraine provides comprehensive support to the agricultural sector: more affordable loans, changes in legislation and simplification of bureaucracy.
Due to the risk of mines, Ukrainian farmers in certain areas can only get access to their fields in special uniforms, accompanied by military specialists, risking their lives. Nonetheless, Ukraine is making every effort to minimise damage to this year’s sowing campaign.
The Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine reported that per 21 April 2022, the projected sown areas of the mainspring crops for the 2022 harvest in the territory controlled by Ukraine are 14,403,000 hectares, which is 2,513,000 hectares less than last year (16,916,300 ha).
Winter rapeseed was sown, just before the war, on an area of 1,414,000 hectares, which is 442,000 hectares more than in 2021.
At the same time, agricultural companies are engaged in the digitalisation of the sowing process. However, the use of drones in Ukrainian agriculture is prohibited. In this context, satellite data can become an important data provider for farmers.
Space Data for Agriculture
Earth Observation has been helping humanity track the condition of its only home in the Universe for many years. Satellite data technologies are becoming an increasingly important source of information for farmers. Using space data, farmers are able to have a large-scale view of their land, from uniform soil fertilisation to livestock monitoring.
Ukraine’s own Earth Observation Satellite
The purpose of Sich-2-30 (Sich-2-1) is to monitor the use of land, vegetation, agriculture, forest, and water resources and to eliminate the consequences of natural disasters in Ukraine and beyond.
At the time when the preceding Sich-2 (MS-2-8) satellite stopped operating in 2012, the Ukrainian space agency hoped that a follow-on spacecraft, then known as Sich-2-1, would launch before the end of 2014. It happened to be exactly the year when the Ukrainian government with close ties to Moscow had collapsed and Kyiv turned to the West. For the country’s already cash-strapped space industry, it meant an abrupt end of the two-way cooperation with Russia, the loss of critical contractors and the end of orders for Ukrainian hardware and services from its main customer.
Moreover, the satellite can help obtain data on the creation of engineering structures and the movement of military equipment and ships.
On January 27, it became known that the satellite in orbit had developed communication problems. In April, it became known that the satellite was undergoing flight tests, the schedule of which was significantly changed due to the Russian troop’s invasion. Engineers claim that the problems are caused by an incorrect orientation of the spacecraft for its solar panels, and are hoping this will get better over the course of the next few weeks. Nevertheless, the satellite remains non-operational.
Earth Observation for Ukraine
A few years earlier, the American company EOS with Ukrainian roots spent two years analysing data on the state of fields in Ukraine, using third-party satellite data and modern computer systems. Its technology is designed to monitor the condition of plants at all phases of growth, predict crops in the early stages, analyse which crops are growing in a particular field, identify problem areas, evaluate yields, and much more. The technology is planned to be used throughout the country for the development of agriculture.
In the first week of the war in Ukraine, EOS urged “all global entities operating in the remote-sensing field to share recent and real-time high-to-medium resolution optical and radar satellite imagery of Ukraine and Eastern Europe with EOS, to assist in both military and humanitarian efforts in the region”. We reported on this call in an article here.
The agricultural analysis division of EarthDaily Analytics, EarthDaily Agro is harnessing the power of Earth Observation to actively monitor crop health around the world and detect early warning signs of production distress to help the world’s leading food security experts make informed decisions.
Responding to the aftermath of the war, The Gro team is providing the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) initiative with continued coverage of crop conditions within Russia and Ukraine for key crops like wheat and corn, as well as any updates from the Russia-Ukraine war that may impact exports.
Since the first days of the war, a number of satellite companies have expressed their solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Do you know more organisations whose satellite data can help agriculture in Ukraine and around the world? Contact us to report this.
Want to help agriculture in Ukraine?
Currently, there are many initiatives and opportunities to help the Ukrainian people. We present several such possibilities.
The #EUSpace4Ukraine platform is an initiative by EUSPA that aims to match innovators with NGOs and other helpers to provide technological solutions for humanitarian support for the Ukrainian people. The platform unites helpers and innovators in supporting the Ukrainian people in their efforts to survive the Russian invasion.
ESA recently launched a funding opportunity to deliver operational services that support efforts in response to humanitarian crises. ESA will support Feasibility Studies and Demonstration Projects, which use space assets or space data like remote sensing, global navigation satellite systems, satellite communication or weather satellites.
Do you want to share the results of a relevant research, organise a thematic event or want to share your experience? Follow the link below to find out how you can support us in facilitating you, by writing about it, hosting a webinar or using your expertise in some other way.
Stand with Ukraine
At Groundstation.space we aim to raise awareness of the applications of satellite data technologies. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we have been informing about the latest news and insights, as well as relevant projects to help the Ukrainian people. In this article we focus on the war impacting agriculture in Ukraine.
Featured image: A farmer in a helmet and body armor does a field in the Zaporizhia region 30 km from the line of contact. In front of him, the fields are checked for shells and mines by soldiers / Image credit: Military law enforcement service of MoD of Ukraine Facebook page. Agriculture in Ukraine.
Author: Vincet Veritas. Edited by Remco Timmermans