Ukraine - The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has caused significant damage to the country's agricultural sector, with a quarter of its agricultural land, including areas occupied by Russian forces, estimated to have been degraded by at least 10.5 million hectares, according to research by the Institute for Soil Science and Agrochemistry Research.
The damage caused by shelling, mines, and destroyed infrastructure has resulted in high concentrations of toxins such as mercury and arsenic from munitions and fuel polluting the soil. The impact on the soil is expected to be long-lasting and could take decades to repair.
The loss of fertility in Ukraine's soil could have severe consequences for global food supplies, given that Ukraine was the world's fourth-largest corn exporter and fifth-biggest wheat seller before the conflict.
The war has already caused global grain prices to rise as Black Sea ports that usually ship Ukraine's harvest closed, exacerbating inflation rates worldwide.
The Soil Institute's director, Sviatoslav Baliuk, estimates that the war damage could cut Ukraine's potential grain harvest by 10 to 20 million tonnes a year, or up to a third based on its pre-war output of 60 to 89 million tonnes.
Besides the damage to the soil, Ukrainian farmers are struggling with unexploded shells in many fields, as well as the destruction of irrigation canals, crop silos, and port terminals. Andriy Vadaturskyi, CEO of Nibulon, one of Ukraine's biggest grain producers, expects demining alone to take 30 years and says urgent financial help is needed to keep Ukrainian farmers in business. He warns that if there is no solution, there could be a shortage of food in the future.
The most fertile soil in Ukraine, known as chernozem, has been hit the hardest. Chernozem is rich in nutrients such as humus, phosphorus, and nitrogen and extends deep into the ground, as much as 1.5 metres.
The war damage could lead to an alarming loss of fertility, with increased toxicity and reduced diversity of microorganisms already reducing the energy corn seeds can generate to sprout by an estimated 26%, resulting in lower yields.
Some experts warn that, like some World War One battlefields, some areas of Ukraine may never return to farm production due to contamination and topographic alteration.
Many other fields will require significant earth-moving to relevel the ground, along with demining on a massive scale. Experts warn that it is of utmost importance to understand the extent of the damage to the soil to mitigate the long-term impact on food.