Ukraine's new vegetable belt. Which regions will hope to replace lost Kherson tomatoes
Photo: freepik
  1. Almost dry irrigation
  2. Saving irrigators: sink-or-swim
  3. What's next

For the first time in Ukraine, more than a third of the fields are irrigated without the participation of the state. In 2023, 46,000 hectares were irrigated by farmers' associations, while the total area of irrigated fields is 134,000 hectares. Among the leaders is Cherkasy Oblast, where 13 water user organizations (WUO) have been created. It overtook Odesa and Mykolaiv oblasts, which were traditional leaders in reclamation.

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WUOs are precisely those associations of farmers who take on the exploitation at their own expense of the so-called "lower level" reclamation systems that are state-owned, communally owned or abandoned. What's more, since December 2023, the WUOs have started to take ownership of irrigation systems.

Almost dry irrigation

Russian aggression destroys land reclamation in Ukraine. In 2021, the area of irrigated land was 525,000 hectares. In 2023, due to the occupation and destruction of the Kakhovka Reservoir, only 134,000 hectares remained under irrigation.

Until 2023, all land reclamation systems were managed by state bodies under the leadership of land reclamation departments. Tariffs for irrigation of fields increased every year. According to Taras Kot, deputy head of the State Agency for Reclamation and Fisheries, tariffs are set by the reclamation offices themselves, based on the costs of electricity, repair of pumping equipment, canals and administrative costs.

He assured that no government agency approves or reviews such tariffs. While the difference in their size is significant: from 5.55 hryvnias ($0.14) per cubic meter of water for some systems to 9.6 hryvnias ($0.25) per cubic meter for others.

"In general, annual budgetary financing of land reclamation systems amounts to 1 billion hryvnias ($26.2 million). And another 1 billion are tariff revenues," says Taras Kot.

Saving irrigators: sink-or-swim

The State Agency for Land Reclamation and Fisheries notes that the main costs in the tariffs for land reclamation are paid for electricity.

"The pumping and canal equipment is outdated, it has been in use since the 1970s. That's why the consumption is low. Modern pumps are one and a half times more economical," the manager of one of the irrigation systems in Odesa Oblast told

Another problem: theft of water. According to the Ukrainian Agri Council (UAC), up to 15% of water is stolen from reclamation canals. For this, mobile motor pumps are used to pump the required volumes of water.

Of course, such a practice is impossible without the fact that state land reclamationists "turn a blind eye" at the right moment. After all, it is impossible to hide traces of filling with stolen water of officially dry peripheral canals.

This is proven by the experience of the WUOs. The networks of the Suvorovska irrigation system in Odesa Oblast are served by the Water of Life WUO. By the way, on December 20, 2023, it was the first in Ukraine to become the owner. According to Oleksiy Shunder, the executive director of this organization, there are no water thefts.

"Now we have started to modernize the equipment. Replacing 11 pumps, valves and control cabinets will reduce water loss by 10% and reduce electricity consumption by 15%," assures Shunder.

For this purpose, WUO received a sub-grant from USAID for 18 million hryvnias ($470,856). Shunder predicts that thanks to this, it will be possible to reduce the irrigation tariff by 15%.

What's next

It seems that Cherkasy Oblast will soon become the main supplier of vegetables that need irrigation – tomatoes, cabbage, onions, etc. In this region, six of the 13 WUOs were created after the Russians destroyed the Kakhovka Reservoir on June 6, 2023.

The main water resource here is the Dnipro. Namely: Kaniv and Kremenchuk reservoirs. The latter fuels interest in the development of land reclamation in Poltava Oblast, which is among the top five in terms of the creation of WUOs. Consequently, a new "vegetable" belt is being created in Ukraine instead of the Kherson plantations lost after the Kakhovka disaster.