2022 GFN Kleckner Global Farm Leader Award: Kornelis “Kees” Huizinga

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As a farmer in Ukraine, I have learned that the weather and other normal farming challenges are not as bad as the bullets, rockets, and grenades of Russia’s war on my country.

I’m just glad that it looks like we’re going to have an average cropping year here in the central part of our battered country. Back in February, when the invasion began, I wasn’t sure we’d even have a chance to plant. In the spring, we planted and hoped. Then we made it through an uncertain summer.

Now we’re going to be busy throughout October with a harvest that I wasn’t sure I’d ever see.

Another unexpected surprise is the news that I am being recognized as the 2022 Global Farmer Network Kleckner Global Farm Leader Award recipient. It never occurred to me that I’d even be a candidate for it, and I’m humbled by the honor. I’ve just tried to do my job, even though my job in 2022 happened to be in a war zone.

I don’t find my personal story exciting since we are still alive, healthy, and able to farm without bombs and grenades falling in our fields and on our farm. I know Ukrainian farmers who lost everything. I know farmers who died.

The world is watching, however, and I just did what I could to tell the real story from the ground in the hope that it would prevent worse and try to save our farm and its workers. I’ve tried to provide updates on the troubles in Ukraine through conversations with public officials, interviews with journalists, and my columns with the Global Farmer Network, which has done so much to promote trade and technology in agriculture. This year, GFN’s mission has driven it to explain Ukraine’s role in achieving world food security—and I am hopeful I’ve done what I can to spread the message.

black iphone 4 on brown wooden tableI’ve come to understand the big audience you can reach through social media platforms and that is why I started sharing our Ukrainian story there. Let me be clear: I wasn’t on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform. Before the war, I avoided them. I would not have been able to use them effectively without the support of my family members who are ‘fluent’ in social media.

I just want to go back to normal times, when I could farm in peace.

If this year holds a major lesson, it’s that we can’t take anything for granted—not peace, not farming, and certainly not the resilience of our global food chain. The war has taught us that we’re all interconnected by farming and food. An event that affects one of us soon affects all of us.

Moreover, our supply systems are much more fragile than we knew. Last week, the International Monetary Fund said that Russia’s war is responsible for a massive global food crisis.

“The result is an unprecedented 345 million people whose lives and livelihoods are in immediate danger from acute food insecurity,” said a statement from IMF leaders. “Around the globe, more than 828 million people go to bed hungry every night.”

That’s more than one in ten people.

Here in Ukraine, where we can’t escape the war’s grim reality, commodity prices are low due to port blockages and the high cost of transportation. Even though the Black Sea Grain Initiative has allowed us to export some of Ukraine’s wheat, together with road and rail transport through Romania and Poland, it’s still not enough.

Things may get worse before they get better. The biggest challenge for many of my neighbors has been access to fertilizer. It has become enormously expensive, and that’s when there’s a chance to buy it. Sometimes it’s unavailable at any price.

Nitrogen fertilizer is a key ingredient of modern agriculture. If we, as farmers stop using nitrogen fertilizer, it will have an immediate effect on the yields and quality of our crops. Nitrogen is made with the help of a lot of natural gas and that has become extremely expensive, and now sits at the center of international conflict between Russia and the EU. Other fertilizers like phosphorus and potassium have become less available because Russia is a major source of them as well.

We faced many challenges in 2022—but 2023 could be even worse. It could be the year we’re forced to farm with little or no fertilizer. The farmers in the frontline or behind it won’t be able to plant anything. If that happens, the IMF’s dire warnings may become even harsher.

I have found out that the general public along with a lot of politicians and journalists do not know how agriculture and world commodity trade works. They don’t understand how it impacts their ability to eat and feed their families. I have no idea how much my words, observations and warnings have helped inform the world on what is happening in Ukraine. My hope is that these efforts helped a little bit in making the case for a sovereign Ukraine where we can enjoy the freedom to farm, the freedom to trade and the freedom to feed the world.

Kornelis Kees Huizinga
WRITTEN BY

Kornelis Kees Huizinga

Kornelis ‘Kees’ Huizinga has farmed in central Ukraine for 20 years, growing onions, carrots, wheat, barley, canola, sugar beet, corn, sunflowers and navy beans. They also have a modern dairy farm. Kees is a member of the Global Farmer Network www.globalfarmernetwork.org

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