In the barn of Ukrainian farmer Oleksandr Ryabinin, a truck dumps a new load onto an already imposing pile of sunflower seeds, which crunch underfoot and give off a nutty smell.
It's harvest time and the farm has already harvested almost half of its production, which it is then supposed to sell to traders for export.
But for now, the 52-year-old agricultural manager has “not sold a single kilo of sunflower seeds.”
These seeds and the resulting oil, used in cooking, are major exports for Ukraine, which was responsible for 31% of the global harvest in 2020/2021.
But the war has made selling Ukrainian agricultural produce, crucial to global food security, a logistical headache.
As with corn or wheat, the export of sunflower seeds was jeopardized by the closure of routes in the Black Sea and Russian attacks on sea and Danube ports.
“People are afraid to transport (sunflower) oil. The ships do not come to collect the oil because (the Russians) are bombing the ports, no one wants to take the risk,” Oleksandr Ryabinin told AFP .
The farmer, whose fields are located in the southeast of the Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson regions, says the lack of demand is leading traders to lower prices.
“For the moment, selling doesn’t make sense,” he assures. “We are going to wait for prices to rise, for a grain corridor to open” for exports, Moscow having slammed the door on the previous one in July.
Sunflower fields cover a large part of Ukraine. In summer, their golden flowers, in contrast with the blue sky, recall the colors of the national flag.
But for the harvest, you have to wait until the beautiful petals fall and the heart gives access to the seeds ripened by the sun.
In the heat, combine harvesters crisscross Oleksandre Ryabinin's field, cutting the seed heads to collect the seeds before transporting them in trucks.
The farmer thinks the harvest will be finished within ten days.
The seeds, which are enveloped by a protective black film, can be stored for up to a year before starting to acidify, he says.
At the moment his barns are also full of wheat. He only sells his rapeseed.
In the exploitation of Oleksandr Ryabinin, it is impossible to forget the war.
The metal walls of the barn where the crops are stored have small holes from shrapnel, and a concrete wall outside is scarred by the impacts of a cluster bomb.
A farm employee was killed there as he tried to take shelter, hit by a shrapnel in the heart. He was 26 and had just had a child, according to his boss.
Oleksandr Ryabinin, a farmer for thirty years, believes that he was doing well before the war. Along with other operators, they invested in new equipment.
But the Russian occupation of part of the Kherson region made it impossible to cultivate 40% of its 10,000 hectares of land last year.
When the Russians were dislodged, farmers spent the winter clearing weeds and having specialized teams clear the fields.
Moscow's army is now on the other bank of the Dnieper River and the situation is calmer.
This summer, all the land on the farm was able to be cultivated. “We have production, but we simply cannot sell it,” summarizes the farmer.
09/18/2023 13:54:47 - Chestirnia (Ukraine) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP