PRODUCING FOOD IN WARTIME
A Ukrainian company exports food and creates jobs in the face of Putin's brutal invasion
Photos by Vlad Sodel for USAID; narrative by Aisha Azimi and Joseph Larsen, USAID
Ukraine is at war, and winter is on the doorstep.
While Ukraine’s defenders are fighting for an independent, sovereign, and democratic future, households are preparing for the cold months ahead, insulating homes and stocking food supplies.
Before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine was the world's third-largest producer of potatoes, churning out more than 20 million tons each year.
Then the war came, damaging farmland and disrupting supply chains.
HELP ON THE WAY
USAID moved quickly to get emergency assistance to farmers, providing seed potatoes and training to more than 6,200 potato farmers in 15 of Ukraine’s 25 regions.
Still, times are hard.
We are one of the biggest suppliers of potatoes for chip production, but at the beginning of the full-scale war, sales dropped, says Yuriy Pulgun, director of the starch plant at Central Plains Group Ukraine, a company that both grows and processes potatoes.
In a village near Lviv, trucks loaded with newly-harvested potatoes roll into the processing facility. Mud-caked spuds pour onto conveyor belts to be washed and sorted.
They will be turned into potato starch, a gluten-free flour used in cooking around the world.
Yuriy and his team established this modern, efficient operation with USAID support. In 2020, USAID provided a grant and training to help launch the facility, part of the Agency’s long-standing assistance to local entrepreneurs in Ukraine.
The support of such a reliable international partner became a turning point for our business, says Yuriy.
WORKING IN WARTIME
Central Plains Group Ukraine has continued working during the war.
We didn't want to give up in the face of danger, Yuriy explains. Our role is to continue working, to support the country's economy despite difficulties, [and] to give people jobs.
With domestic supply chains in disarray, exports have been critical.
Despite difficult wartime conditions, Central Plains Group Ukraine obtained certifications to export to lucrative foreign markets including Germany, Poland, China, and Peru. This is a complex process, and products are rigorously tested in the facility’s laboratory to ensure quality standards are met.
Export revenue allowed the company to keep its workforce and even hire 15 new employees during the summer. Just as important, it has continued to buy potatoes from 15 local farms. Yuriy estimates it has paid about $525,000 to local farmers so far this year. This provides economic stability in the area, easing pressure on local residents to leave in search of work.
The success of Central Plains Group Ukraine shows the resilience of Ukraine’s economy. Longer term, it is a model for how businesses can deliver a more prosperous future for Ukrainians.
Like Yuriy says: More opportunities for development and innovation will appear in Ukraine. Our country has many resources for this.
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ABOUT THIS STORY
For three decades, USAID has invested in helping Ukraine build strong agricultural and food processing industries to meet domestic needs and drive export revenue. Since the start of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, USAID has provided supplies and support to more than 12,800 farmers, accounting for about one quarter of Ukraine’s registered agricultural enterprises. In July, USAID launched the AGRI-Ukraine initiative to help Ukraine produce, process, and export food to contribute to global food security.