This week saw Ukraine and Poland sign a memorandum declaring their intention to build a new pipeline for oil exports.
Before you think you’ve accidentally stumbled upon EURACTIV’s Green brief, worry not, you are in the right place. Because this is not your average oil pipeline, but a pipeline for sunflower seeds oil.
And no, this is not a joke – the official announcements came from both Ukrainian and Polish ministers and official institutions, and was also confirmed by the EU’s Polish Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, who overlooks the agriculture portfolio in the EU Executive.
Representatives from the agriculture ministries of both countries signed the agreement, which sets out their willingness to construct a cross-border pipeline to pump vegetable oil from the Yagodyn district of Ukraine to the Polish port of Gdansk.
While the details are currently hazy, the Ukrainian agriculture ministry said it will be a ~600km pipeline, with the capacity to export up to two million tons of oil annually.
Ukraine and Poland will now create a working group to work out the technical characteristics and conditions for the construction of the pipeline and two terminals.
For Commissioner Wojciechowski, the pipeline is a “good proposal”.
“Poland is also interested in doing this. It will be very helpful for Ukraine to have a connection to the world market,” he told EURACTIV on the sidelines of an informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Prague on Thursday (15 September).
A pinch of common sense
Indeed, while it may still sound like a prank by the two ministries, there are some very legitimate reasons why this initiative may have legs.
According to the EU vegetable oil association, the supplies of sunflower seed oil shipped to EU countries accounted for roughly 200,000 tonnes per month before the war.
It is estimated that between 35-45% of sunflower oil refined in the EU comes from Ukraine and member states are currently worried about the current leakage of this commodity in the European markets.
Sunflower seed yields are also expected to drop by 12% compared to the five-year average, according to the latest European forecasts.
Ukraine is among the biggest world producers of sunflower oil. According to the data from the United States Department of Agriculture (SDA), in the 2021/2022 marketing year (September-August) the country produced 4,644 million metric tons of sunflower oil.
Sunflower oil export revenues constitute a significant part of Ukraine’s overall export income.
Before the war, Ukrainian sunflower oil was exported to 107 countries of the world, and its largest consumers are located in Europe (37%), Southeast Asia (29%), and Asia (14.9%).
As of now, Ukraine is mainly exporting sunflower seeds, which take the second position after maize – 1.4 million tonnes since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion in February, which is 34 times more than in 2021.
This is a change of pace from before the war when fewer seeds were exported due to the high internal demand of the oil production industry.
Processed oil will bring more money to Ukraine than seeds, and the pipeline may reinforce the country as a top producer of the commodity.
What is more, since Russia is not included in the memorandum, unlike the seaports grain deal, this initiative may even be more reliable and sustainable. It could also reinforce the political ties between Brussels and Kyiv.
A bump of reality
But while the idea may be nice on paper, the signed document does not signal the start of construction but rather willingness to look further into the opportunity, meaning construction is likely a distant prospect.
“The preliminary agreement provides for the appointment of a working team that will develop the technical conditions of such an investment, methods of financing and whether such a pipeline is economically viable,” Poland’s agriculture minister, Henryk Kowalczyk, explained in an interview with Polish media.
The Polish minister added that the working team was to present the results of its analysis within a few months.
Meanwhile, in his interview with Ukrainian media, the Ukrainian Agri minister Mykola Solskyi explained that the preparation may take even more time than the construction itself.
“The pipeline will be several hundred kilometres long, and the interests of many communities and people must be taken into account along this distance. We care more about this than the construction itself,” Solskyi said.
There is also a big question mark over the price of such an enormous undertaking.
But what is sure is that, if constructed, the pipeline would be a real innovation. After all, not so long ago, the idea of underwater train tunnels seemed to be just as weird – as is often the case with all ingenious things.
And who knows, someday we may end up with olive oil, beer or wine exporting pipelines all across Europe.
By Yaroslava Bukhta
Agrifood Podcast: Energy crisis, solar panels, Cachaça
This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood team takes a look at the ways in which the agrifood sector is starting to feel the brunt of the energy crisis, we speak with Andreas Schweiger, professor for plant ecology at the University of Hohenheim, to hear about the ways in which solar panels can be incorporated into the farming sector and the potential problems and opportunities this could bring, and we bring you a very special flavour of the week all the way from Brazil.
Subscribe to EURACTIV’s Agrifood Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering agriculture and food from across Europe. The Agrifood Brief is brought to you by EURACTIV’s Agrifood Team – Gerardo Fortuna (@gerardofortuna), Natasha Foote (@NatashaFoote), Julia Dahm (@dahm_julia), and Yaroslava Bukhta (@YaroslavaBukhta)
Agrifood stories this week
EU lawmakers vote to include maize, meat imports in anti-deforestation rules
The European Parliament has voted to extend the agricultural goods covered by the bloc’s new law against imports linked to deforestation to include maize, poultry and pig meat, in a move hailed by campaigners but criticised by industry representatives. Julia Dahm has the details.
Commission: Too soon to tell impact of relaxing agricultural green measures
The European Commission has said they do not yet have a clear picture of the impact of their controversial decision to temporarily pause certain environmental requirements in the EU’s farming subsidy programme on yields. Natasha Foote has the story.
Germany to stop exporting banned pesticides, push for EU-wide halt
Germany will ban from next spring the export to third countries of pesticides that are not authorised for the EU market and will also push for a bloc-wide export ban together with France. Julia Dahm has more.
Revealed: How Ireland found itself breaching EU limits on biofuels
The Irish transport sector uses more than double the limit of waste-based biofuels such as used cooking oil, putting Ireland in breach of a cap contained in the Renewable Energy Directive, EURACTIV has learned.
Von der Leyen’s Ukraine-tinted speech falls short on policy vision
Europe’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine dominated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s annual speech on Wednesday, but she provided little substance when it came to several important files and pressing issues facing the bloc – including the food and farming sector. EURACTIV’s editorial team takes a look at what was missing in the State of the Union speech.
Stronger crisis funding in next CAP. Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has said that he would push for a stronger crisis management system in the next Common Agricultural Policy reform. “In the future, we need to strengthen the system of crisis management and to have a bigger crisis reserve in the Common Agricultural Policy budget, this is my reflection and I will try in the future to prepare the first proposals for the future of the [CAP],” he told reporters in Prague on Thursday ahead of the informal meeting of agriculture ministers. “We need more common instruments which will support farmers in a crisis situation,” he said, explaining that now, between climate change, drought and the Ukraine war, farmers face a “permanent crisis”. “We need to be stronger in crisis […] so this could be on the table next year,” he said, adding that first proposal for the next CAP reform can be expected in 2024.
No appetite for halting export of banned pesticides. Following Germany’s announcement that it would halt exports of pesticides banned in the EU to third countries, and that the German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir would push for this at the EU level, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told EURACTIV that while he “fully supports” the decision, such a move is not on the cards at the EU level. “This is the decision of the German government. But now this commission is not planning such a decision on the EU level,” he said on the sidelines of a meeting of agricultural ministers in Prague.
Special Committee on Agriculture. Food security, drought and the CAP took centre stage at this week’s Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting, where the Commission stressed the EU is in a “very comfortable position” thanks to the EU’s farming subsidy programme. Delegations raised concerns over the sustainable use of pesticide (SUR) proposal, with some stating this represents a challenge for them, especially given the current market situation. The Commission representative also took the opportunity to defend Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech, saying that while agriculture was not prominent in her speech, it was very prominent in the reaction and follow-up discussion.
Food contact materials. The Commission adopted new rules on the safety of recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food this week. This regulation intends to set clear rules to ensure that recycled plastic can be safely used in food packaging in the EU as part of green ambitions outlined in the circular economy action plan.
US announces sanctions for grain theft. The US announced a number of new sanctions against Russia on Thursday, including against five individuals for “supporting or enabling the theft of Ukraine’s grain” on behalf of Russia, according to CNN.
News from the CAPitals
Organic producers to receive a boost from France’s CAP plan. Organic production has been placed front and centre of France’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plan – but despite some environmental progress, critics have raised concerns about the plan’s ability to meet the objectives of the European Green Deal. Read the full story here. (Hugo Struna I EURACTIV.fr)
Commission greenlights Austrian CAP plan. Austria, alongside Luxembourg, is among the most recent countries to get their Strategic Plans for the implementation of the CAP reform approved by the European Commission. The country’s agriculture minister, Norbert Totschnig, welcomed the step. “Finally, we are entering the final stretch of the CAP’s implementation,” he said in a statement. Altogether, the financial volume covered by the plan amounts to around €1.8 billion, of which more than €570 million will be used to reward farmers for implementing voluntary environmental measures, according to the minister. “This is exemplary for Europe,” he concluded. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)
Big agenda for German agri ministers. Germany’s Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir and his 16 regional counterparts conclude their quarterly meeting on Friday (16 September). The long agenda for the two-day meeting includes, among other things, the impact of the Ukraine war on agricultural markets, Germany’s CAP Strategic Plan, funding for more animal welfare, and the planned mandatory animal welfare and origin label. In the face of the gas and energy crisis, ministers will also discuss the agriculture and food sector’s energy supply this winter. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)
Bird flu cases spread in Dutch farms. Concerns are growing among Dutch poultry farmers over the continued spread of avian influenza. While cases had been found in the country throughout the past year, the spread accelerated in recent weeks, according to data from Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR). Altogether, the outbreak has reportedly led to the culling of 3.7 million chickens, ducks, and turkeys. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)
Minister promises no food price controls. The Spanish government is not considering any price control measures that would set a maximum price for basic foodstuffs in the face of sharp rises in food prices, agriculture and food minister Luis Planas said on Wednesday. EURACTIVs partner EFE Agro has more.
Irish and Ukrainian foreign ministers discuss grain exports. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kubela, met in Odesa on Wednesday to discuss, among other things, grain exports ahead of a UN Security Council meeting next week. Find out more here. (Molly Killeen I EURACTIV.com)
Czech farmers protest against new CAP, Green Deal. Czech farmers’ organisations geared up for massive protests against the new Common Agricultural Policy on Thursday, ahead of the informal meeting of EU agricultural ministers in Prague. More info here. (Aneta Zachová I EURACTIV.cz)
Questionable financial support for farmers. Two support measures for Greece’s agricultural sector, announced on Saturday by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have been slammed by stakeholders for not providing sufficient help. The measures include €89 million to support livestock farmers in purchasing animal feed – whose costs have starkly risen lately – and €60 million to help arable farmers cover the risen fertiliser costs. However, according to critics quoted by Greek media, the aid does not provide any substantial help to farmers because, firstly, it does not cover the additional costs with which farmers have to cope and, secondly, a large part of this aid reportedly comes from a reallocation of funds away from the Rural Development Programme – resources farmers would have benefitted from anyways. (Marianthi Pelekanaki| EURACTIV.gr)
16 September | Final day of the informal meeting of agriculture ministers
22—26 September | Terra Madre Salone del Gusto
23 September | Coreper I
26 September | Agrifish Council
26 September | EFSA findings on the animal welfare for transported animals