Penn State-led consortium to support agricultural, economic growth in Ukraine

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is leading a consortium of land-grant universities in the United States that have pledged support for continued reform and development of the agricultural and rural sectors in Ukraine, a sovereign state in Eastern Europe that was once referred to as "the breadbasket of Europe," a nod to its fertile soil and abundant grain fields.

"As the world's population grows, so does the need to increase food production," said Rick Roush, dean of the college. "At Penn State, we are at the forefront of developing innovative technologies and practices to meet that global challenge while being good stewards of the environment, and we believe that Ukraine is a valuable international partner in that effort."

To help Ukraine realize its agricultural potential, Penn State has assembled an elite group of experts from Ohio State University, Kansas State University, University of Missouri and Louisiana State University to form the Consortium for Ukraine's Rural and Agricultural Development, or CURAD.

Agriculture is the third most important industry in Ukraine due, in large part, to its rich soil and land capacity; about 70 percent of the total area of the country is dedicated to agriculture. It is the world's largest exporter of sunflower oil, third-largest exporter of barley, fourth-largest exporter of corn, sixth-largest exporter of wheat and ninth-largest exporter of poultry, according to the International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Though those numbers are impressive, Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of international programs for the College of Agricultural Sciences and a consortium leader, said that Ukrainian farmers, especially those in rural areas, face many challenges. These include a moratorium on land sale, lack of access to finance and markets, limited training in sustainable farming practices, lack of equipment and infrastructure inadequacies.

The consortium will begin to dig deeper into those issues during an extended visit to Ukraine planned for later this month. Headed by Roush, the team will engage with Ukrainian government officials, scientists and academics, practitioners, and farmers, including women and youth, to discuss how they can work together to implement innovative and sustainable agriculture practices and policies in Ukraine.

As Behring explained, CURAD aims to channel its efforts into three main areas:

--Rural vitality through the promotion of economic diversification, with an emphasis on improving local governance in Ukraine municipalities and supporting locally driven development mechanisms. Rural development also should provide opportunities and programs specifically targeted to rural youth and women, in addition to addressing rural underemployment and out-migration.

--Small- and medium-size enterprise profitability by providing assistance for independent agriculture companies that are already commercial producers and relatively successful. Assistance may include technology transfer, technical assistance, market analysis, access to credit, human capital development and improving functioning of market institutions.

--Education and outreach initiatives focusing on land, market and institutional issues, such as market-information and policy-analysis training, and programming for farmers, students and faculty from Ukraine to illustrate working models of cooperative organizations, associations and lobbyist organizations, with an end-goal of developing a roster of specialists to assist with Ukrainian agricultural issues.

CURAD will consult with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State; Ukrainian universities; agribusiness interests of the Ukrainian diaspora; and private and public institutions. CURAD will work with a partner on the ground, Kyiv-based Bridges, to organize some of the early efforts.

"Ukraine has yet to reach its full potential, and we firmly believe agricultural development is key to long-term economic health and democracy in Ukraine," Behring said. "Through this consortium, we will exchange best practices and knowledge that will help remove barriers to success for Ukrainian farmers and rural entrepreneurs, providing them the opportunity to have an even greater impact in their communities and, ultimately, the world."

This initiative will build on the College of Agricultural Sciences' long-standing relationship with partners in Ukraine, thanks in large part to the generosity of real estate developers Helen and Alex Woskob, of State College. The relationship dates back to 1992 when the Woskobs established the Center of Ukrainian Agriculture at Penn State, enabling collaboration between Penn State and the Ukrainian Agricultural Academy in Kyiv, now the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences.

The Woskobs' philanthropic support, through the Woskob New Century Fund, has supported a variety of programs focused on the exchange of faculty, researchers and scientists; joint seminars and academic meetings; cultural exchange activities; joint international training courses, programs and projects; joint consultation; and collaborative education, research and extension activities.

Past projects have included helping vegetable producers and members of cooperatives to identify potential markets for fresh vegetables and value-added products, such as frozen, processed and packaged fruits and vegetables.

Other efforts have included promoting biomass energy; no-till and low-till agricultural practices to conserve soil and reduce nutrient runoff; reducing the in-field burning of crop residues; administering business management and financial management training programs to the agribusiness sector; food safety training; and the Woskob International Research in Agriculture Scholar Program.

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Last Updated May 23, 2018