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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have launched a joint programme in collaboration with mine disposal company Fondation Suisse de Déminage (FSD) to support smallholder farmers and rural families in Ukraine affected by the war.

Launched in the Kharkivska region, the programme would later expand to the Mykolaivska and Khersonska areas, focusing on farmers with plots smaller than 300ha as well as rural families growing food for their own consumption, the FAO said on 22 June.

The programme was designed to safely release land back to productive use, including clearance of mines and other explosive remnants of the war, to help restore agricultural livelihoods, contribute to Ukraine’s economic recovery, and phase out the need for humanitarian assistance for thousands of rural families, the organisation said.

The FAO said the war had damaged Ukraine’s agriculture and food production, disrupted supply chains and exports, increased production costs, and caused widespread mine contamination.

According to the Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment published in February, Ukraine’s production of grain and oilseeds dropped by 37% last year. Almost 90% of small-scale crop producers surveyed by FAO in Ukraine reported a decrease in revenue due to the war, with one in four saying they had stopped or significantly reduced their agricultural activity.

“Many families and small-scale farmers in front-line regions are not planting this season because they know their fields are dangerous or they are risking their lives to plant on mined lands or contaminated soils,” Pierre Vauthier, head of FAO Ukraine Country Office, said.

“We expect that … soil rehabilitation, remediation and conservation techniques … will support people’s return to farming and restore rural livelihoods while helping to sustain Ukraine’s agricultural production.”

The first step would involve the identification and mapping of land using satellite imagery, which would involve the FAO, WFP and FSD working in close co-ordination with communities, local authorities and the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine, the FAO said.

In the second phase, de-mining teams would survey and clear lands from mines and other explosive remnants of the war, prioritising plots that could be quickly released with minimal clearance work, the FAO said.

The third phase would involve the FAO and FSD testing soils to assess contamination by pollutants left behind by exploded weapons. In addition, the FAO and WFP would survey smallholder farmers and rural families on the types of inputs and resources they needed to restart agricultural production and would provide direct support – cash or otherwise – where possible.

To date, the US$100M project was facing a funding gap of US$90M, the FAO said.

According to FAO and WFP estimates, potential annual savings could reach up to US$60M in direct food assistance to rural communities.

The project was supported by the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund, a UN pooled fund, as well as private donors, the FAO said.

A non-governmental humanitarian organisation based in Geneva, FSD’s main activity is mine disposal but it is also active in other humanitarian sectors.