In-depth | After Kakhovka dam collapse, Ukrainian farmers will have to learn lessons from Afghanistan

After Kakhovka dam collapse, Ukrainian farmers will have to learn lessons from Afghanistan - Photo
08.06.2023, 13:50

After Russia's terrorist attack on Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, dryland farming is the only option for flooded farms in southern Ukraine

Farmland in the lower reaches of the Dnipro river will be covered with about 5 billion cubic metres of water over the next four days. Most of the land is located on the left bank, currently occupied by Russia, but the right bank will be affected as well.

Ukraine’s agriculture ministry expects approximately 10,000 hectares of rural land will be flooded on the right bank of the Kherson region – and several times more on the left bank of the region.

In other words, more than 70,000 hectares of plantations and fields in total will be flooded after Russia’s terrorist attack destroyed Europe's largest reservoir.

 

Найбільші водосховища Європи

All of this year’s harvest on the flooded land – thousands of tonnes of vegetables, fruits and berries, as well as grains and oilseeds – is destroyed.

The long-term damage to agriculture is even greater, as the dam’s collapse has disrupted water supply systems in the fields – not only in the Kherson region, but also in the south of the Zaporizhzhia region.

Irrigation system’s collapse

The developed irrigation complex from the Kakhovka reservoir supplied water to almost 600,000 hectares of fertile land, according to Ukraine’s agriculture ministry.

The harvest of grains and sunflower in that area alone used to bring in USD 1.5 billion annually.

Vegetable growing and horticulture will suffer losses, too, although they are yet to be estimated. For instance, muddy waters are destroying warehouse infrastructure: the largest vegetable storage facility of the Green-Tim company, in the city of Kakhovka, which houses up to 50,000 tonnes of vegetables, is now submerged in water.

"It will take five years to restore the main vegetable clusters in the region," says Vadym Dudka, director of Agroanalysis, a consultancy, adding this is still an optimistic forecast.

Local farmers interviewed by LIGA.net are convinced the irrigation system in the area is almost completely lost due to the destruction of the Kakhovka reservoir.

"If we put aside fantasies about large-scale restoration and make a realistic assessment of the state of affairs, we need to return to dryland farming," says Valentyn Sydorenko, head of the agricultural enterprise SiNa.

This is how farmers in Afghanistan survive, his colleagues say – and it's not about growing opium poppies.

Dry farming, or rainfed agriculture, is used in water-scarce areas, such as Afghanistan, but also in Napa Valley, in California.

Its main principle is reducing water consumption, using both the old-fashioned methods of preserving spring moisture and modern ones, such as creating trail furrows or contour ploughing.

Poisoned soil

The Kakhovka reservoir runs the significant risk of contaminating agricultural land with silt, which can contain heavy metals.

The Kakhovka reservoir is one of the two reservoirs on the Dnipro River that has the highest man-made load. This includes large industrial complexes on its banks, such as ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy enterprises in the cities of Zaporizhzhia, Nikopol, Dniprorudnyi, Marhanets, and Pokrov, as well as coal and nuclear power plants in Enerhodar.

"The consequences of flooding and water damage will be healed by nature; it takes a year or two for natural soil-forming processes to do so. But heavy metal contamination of land will last for a long time if no soil clean-up work is carried out," Bohdan Kalinchuk of Agroanalysis says.

Cleaning the soil on the farmland of the Kherson region will be difficult since it has been mined due to the war.

The Russians built defensive lines on the left bank with a large number of minefields, and after the water subsides, their boundaries will be shifted in many cases.

Dead fish

The flooding caused by Russia's destruction of the Kakhovka dam has devastated the Southern Dnipro transportation system, which helped keep costs low for Ukraine's agricultural sector. 

"The dam's demolition by Russian occupiers has totally wrecked river logistics, critical for enterprises, jobs, and moving up to 60 million tons of cargo annually at one-third the cost of road transportation," said a representative of NIBULON, now run by Andriy Vadaturskyi.

NIBULON's own infrastructure on the Dnipro River was not directly damaged as a result of the explosion, the firm emphasized.

"We did not operate the remnants of the Kozatska branch flooded on June 6 – it had been destroyed back in 2022, and Holoprystanska and Kamianka-Dniprovska were occupied last year," NIBULON told LIGA.net.

The catastrophe has dealt a heavy blow to Ukraine's fishing industry, with losses estimated at up to UAH 10.5 billion ($284 million) for decades to come. Adult fish deaths alone could reach 95,000 tons – compared to Ukraine's official 2022 fish catch of under 10,000 tons.

On June 7, officials announced that Ukraine's only state-owned sturgeon hatchery, the S. Artiuschyk Dnipro Sturgeon Experimental Plant, had been destroyed in the explosion. The facility had annually raised 1.5 million young sturgeon, later released into the Dnipro River.

"This threatens to wipe out sturgeon populations and cause the extinction of relic species in Ukraine's water bodies," noted the Ministry of Agrarian Policy.

Andriy Zaika
Andriy Zaika
Correspondent, Business section
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