UKRAINE - The results of a household survey released by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) paint a bleak picture for small-scale, family-run farms in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
Skipping meals, migrating to find work, borrowing to pay for necessities, selling their household goods and vehicles, killing their livestock for lack of feed, planting less for lack of seed and fertiliser - these are some of the coping strategies of 230,000 families struggling to get by in the conflict areas of eastern Ukraine.
The conflict - now more than a year old - has sparked skyrocketing prices for food, fuel, transport, seed, fertiliser, animal feed, and other agricultural and household needs. Economic and security conditions are straining people's ability to adapt.
"This survey has given us a comprehensive analysis of the dimensions, patterns and causes of vulnerability among some 700,000 people in eastern Ukraine," said Vladimir Rakhmanin, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia.
The vast majority of survey respondents are subsistence farmers who produce crops mainly for their own consumption. Even those who produce cash crops or have surplus production face daunting obstacles to selling their produce: lack of transport, high fuel prices, insecurity, distant markets, and low prices at market.
Migration is on the increase, the survey found, and those who remain on the land have a declining capacity to feed themselves.
Until now, external assistance to eastern Ukraine has come mainly in the form of direct food distributions. The survey studied in a detailed way the needs of small-scale farms if they are to maintain their production.
"Family farms in the conflict area have shown resilience in the face of very difficult conditions, but this cannot last," said Farrukh Toirov, FAO emergency response coordinator in Ukraine.
"They are being forced to make difficult choices, such as livestock culling, reducing their planted area, or migration. These are decisions that may make sense in the short term, but it means we can expect to see consequences."
Both livestock and crop production will continue to contract, he said, and this could drive food prices even higher. Ultimately, food security hangs in the balance.
The report recommends immediate-term provision of seed, fertiliser and tools in support of crop production, and animal feed, fodder and restocking of animals for continued livestock production.
From its own resources, FAO has already distributed potato seed, animal feed, and live broiler-layer chickens to needy farm households in Donetsk and Lugansk. Now it aims to scale up operations in order to reach more families and enable to them to continue production.
"People should not become dependent on food hand-outs in a land that can produce most of the population's food needs," said Mr Rakhmanin.
"We believe there is a significant and urgent need to support the subsistence production needs of the affected populations and stabilise their agricultural activities.
"FAO has the experience and the expertise to bring practical, timely assistance to those farming households in greatest need. We are actively seeking resource partners to support this effort in Ukraine."
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