A year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Oakland Institute has released a new report titled "War and Theft: The Takeover of Ukraine's Agricultural Land." The report sheds light on the financial interests and dynamics that have contributed to the further concentration of land and finance in the country.
Frédéric Mousseau, the Policy Director of the Oakland Institute and co-author of the report, highlighted the lack of attention given to the core of the conflict—namely, the control of agricultural land in Ukraine, often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe. Understanding the stakes involved in the war necessitates examining this aspect.
The report reveals that oligarchs, corrupt individuals, and large agribusinesses currently control over nine million hectares of land, which exceeds 28 percent of Ukraine's arable land. The largest landholders comprise a mix of Ukrainian oligarchs and foreign entities, primarily from Europe, North America, and even the sovereign fund of Saudi Arabia. Notably, prominent US pension funds, foundations, and university endowments have invested through NCH Capital, a US-based private equity fund.
Certain agribusinesses, still under significant oligarch control, have opened up to Western banks and investment funds, including well-known entities such as Kopernik, BNP, and Vanguard, which now hold a portion of their shares. Many of these large landholders carry substantial debts owed to Western funds and institutions, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank.
In recent years, Western financing to Ukraine has been tied to a structural adjustment program that necessitated austerity measures and privatization, including the establishment of a land market for agricultural land sales. President Zelenskyy passed the land reform law in 2020, despite strong opposition from the majority of the population who feared increased corruption and the reinforcement of powerful interests in the agricultural sector. The report's findings align with these concerns. While large landholders secure massive financing from Western financial institutions, Ukrainian farmers, crucial for domestic food supply, receive minimal support. With the land market in place amid economic strain and ongoing conflict, this unequal treatment will lead to further consolidation of land by large agribusinesses.
The report also raises concerns about Ukraine's overwhelming debt, which financial institutions are using as leverage to drive post-war reconstruction toward additional privatization and liberalization reforms in various sectors, including agriculture.
Mousseau emphasized that this situation is detrimental to Ukrainians. While they endure the hardships of defending their land, financial institutions are subtly supporting the consolidation of farmland by oligarchs and Western financial interests. In light of the country's war-torn condition, the government and Western institutions should heed the calls from Ukrainian civil society, academics, and farmers to suspend the land law and all land transactions. Prioritizing an agricultural model that breaks free from oligarchy and corruption, where land and resources benefit all Ukrainians, is the path forward for post-war reconstruction, concluded Mousseau.