A week in the Ukraine was enough to get us excited about the potential of the agricultural sector and frustrated with the limitations created by a country that slept through the industrial revolution and woke in the mid nineties with a post Soviet hangover.
Humus laden topsoil up to 18’ deep and a river that would make any Australian farmer cry are the jewels of the country. We were like a mob of kids in a lolly shop digging our hands into the black earth and talking about ways to get into the Ukrainian agriculture business. As the week wore on our enthusiasm waned when we realised the real risks of doing business here could only be handled with a good bodyguard and top-level connections.
Land in the Ukraine is owned by the people, usually in 4 hectare plots. These can be used for subsistence farming or rented out to another farmer at around 3% of land value. This is a form of social security that is pretty effective when you think about it. As farmers in Australia we are always trying to get around the problem of such a large portion of our capital being tied up in land. This system allows investors and agricultural professionals to amalgamate a parcel of land and get busy with production. Rates of return are very high, a 20% return is considered a bit of a flop and 100% return seemed to be fairly common. I know, it’s hard to get your head around but that’s what happens when inputs are negligible, the market is strong and the soil is fantastic.
We travelled from Kiev down to Odessa and visited with farmers, factories and even the old Soviet missile base that housed enough neucs to decimate 600,000 square kilometres. We took a trip down into the bunker and saw the ‘buttons’ that could have wiped out nations. We went to the ballet at one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world but given the last three weeks the dim lights resulted in us nodding off rather than appreciating Ukrainian ballet. We witnessed first hand corruption when we were asked for bribes, we felt the effects of racial and sexual discrimination and all in all, we were glad to get out.
We flew onto Turkey and had two nights in the vibrant city of Istanbul. We went to Gallipoli on a mad day trip and had the surreal experience of walking amongst the places that are an intrinsic part of being Australian. Not a day goes by that we don’t remind ourselves of the privilege that being part of this program is.
- At Gallipoli
We’re currently in Bahrain and are experiencing yet another aspect of humanity and culture. It’s an amazing place and we’ve got some stories to tell.