Sandy Fiser, Velupillai, Lakshman
Representatives of a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded project in Ukraine are meeting in Baton Rouge this week (March 2-4) for review and planning sessions.
The meetings include representatives of three Ukrainian universities, the World Laboratory, USAID and the LSU AgCenter, which is coordinating the project in Ukraine.
This is the second meeting of the advisory committee for the USAID-funded program for improving private Ukrainian agriculture through agricultural extension, according to Dr. Lakshman Velupillai, director of international programs for the LSU AgCenter.
The Ukrainian delegation includes representatives from agricultural universities in three oblasts, or provinces – Cherkasy, Khmelnytsky and Vinnytsia.
"We represent the Ukrainian people and academic institutions," said Dr. Mykola Bakhmat, rector of the Kamenets-Podilsky State Agrarian and Engineering Academy in Khmelnytsky Oblast. "Our work will provide opportunities to improve agricultural production in Ukraine."
The LSU AgCenter’s program in Ukraine began in 1998 and now is in the second year of phase two, Velupillai said. "This meeting is part of the management strategy and a process of self-evaluation," he said.
Vasyl Demydyuk, a private farmer from Vinnytsia, said farm activity depends on the price policy of the government. He said that after a farmer begins planning his cropping program in the winter, the prices for his commodities and the costs of his inputs may go up or go down three or four times. "A farmer must be a psychic," Demydyuk said.
Natasha Fishchuk, assistant director for education in the LSU AgCenter’s project office in Vinnytsia, said the program’s focus is to train university faculty and consultants in extension methodology and provide education for farmers. As time goes on, more emphasis will shift to farmers, she said.
Fishchuk said that in addition to production agriculture, farmer education includes programs such as labor safety and accounting.
The main features of the project are in agricultural production and management, business and market development and research coordination, said Wanda Yamkovenko, deputy Ukrainian project director for the LSU AgCenter in Vinnytsia.
Yamkovenko said agriculture is one-third of the Ukrainian gross domestic product.
"This program is important for the people of Ukraine and for all the people of the world," said LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson. "Ukrainian farmers need help to move from the old collective system to free enterprise, and the AgCenter is ready to help."
Ukraine was a part of the former Soviet Union and before that was a part of the Russian Empire. For many years Ukrainian agriculture was controlled by the Soviet system, and individual farmers worked on collective farms where they had no opportunity to learn about farming practices.
Ukraine was the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union, but agricultural productivity fell following the dissolution of the USSR. Agricultural reforms in Ukraine have taken a giant step forward since the emergence of Ukraine as an independent country, officials say.
The LSU AgCenter-Ukrainian collaboration, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, provides assistance in the transition to privatized free-market agriculture in Ukraine.
New private farms began emerging in the mid 1990s with private farms averaging in the neighborhood of 110 acres and with hundreds of home plots rounding out production.
Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma decreed on Dec. 3, 2000, that all the former collective farms would be dissolved within two years – putting a stronger emphasis on helping support private farming in the country.
All collectives were declared to cease in April 2002, and the stage was set for the privatization of all agriculture, Velupillai said.
Even those without agricultural experience took land when the government split up the collectives, Velupillai said, adding, "Some learned that agriculture is a tricky business, and there were many failures."
On Tuesday, Richardson reiterated the LSU AgCenter’s "firm commitment" to the project in Ukraine. "The success of the project is very important to us," he said.
Dr. Gennady Palshin, director general of the World Laboratory’s Ukraine branch in Kiev, thanked the LSU AgCenter for its efforts to help with agricultural reform in Ukraine.
Palshin said the partners in this project have reached success and have many success stories to review. And he cited the program’s work in public policy as giving Ukrainian governments a better understanding of private farming.
"Without these programs, reform would be a more-difficult process," Palshin said. "Because of them, administrators at all levels are aware of what extension is."
Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, said the test of success will be having farmers accept the program in the country.
"We’ve laid the groundwork for positive results," he said.