Ukraine ～Dream for Black Soil～
Reporter : By Takanori Ando,
Representative in East Europe
and the CIS
The Sumitomo Corporation Group sells pesticides, seeds and other agricultural materials in the European market, mainly in Central and East Europe, through its nine local units. Our European operations started with the establishment of Summit Agro Hungary (now Sumi Agro Hungary) in 1992. The Group entered the Ukraine market 12 years ago by launching Summit Agro Ukraine. Currently some 20 employees are striving for success in Ukraine.
When I was in Japan, I could only associate a few things with Ukraine—it was a former republic of the Soviet Union, there was the nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl, the lyrics of Beatles’ song, “Back in the USSR,” and that was it. But I soon realized that the saying “there is more than meets the eye” quite literally applies to this country. In fact, Ukraine is one of the world’s most influential countries in the area of agriculture-related business.
Ukraine is encompassed by a belt of black soil
Preparing for pesticide application
Ukraine has vast tracts of fertile black soil along the Black Sea and has long been called the bread basket of Europe. It is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of wheat and the second-largest exporter of feedstock crops after the U.S. It is also the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, with the second-place-getter, Argentina, exporting less than half of what Ukraine does. Summit Agro Ukraine offers a wide range of pesticides and other farming materials, aiming to make significant contributions to efforts to achieve greater yields of these important crops. This may give the impression that our business prospers without much effort, but that is not the case. There are large numbers of knockoffs of our products on the market and we have to fight hard against them in cooperation with the regulatory authorities.
As you may know, Ukraine underwent an upheaval known as the Orange Revolution in 2004. The political movement triggered by protests against the presidential election results was a stark reminder of the country’s difficulties.
The south eastern part of Ukraine is closely allied with Russia and more people speak Russian than Ukrainian. By contrast, the western part of the country shares a border with the EU and people there had been trying to build closer relationships with European countries rather than Russia.
The ruling party at that time was pro-Russia while the opposition party looked more toward the EU and the United States. When it was discovered that the ruling party had committed electoral fraud in the presidential election, it caused a public outcry across the country. As a result of the new elections that followed, the opposition party’s candidate became president. The name “Orange Revolution” came from the orange-clothing worn by the opposition party supporters. The complicated political environment in Ukraine has a significant influence on how we operate our day-to-day business in this country. We have to stay keenly aware of the shifting political currents.
St. Volodymyr's Cathedral
Beautiful structure within St. Sophia Cathedral
On a lighter note, business trips to Ukraine sometimes allow me an opportunity to do some sightseeing in Kiev. For Japanese people, Christian culture seems to be universal in Europe but the reality is that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to which a majority of Ukrainians belong, has a distinct and somewhat exotic culture that is actually quite different from Roman Catholic culture, which we Japanese are more familiar with. I am particularly fascinated with Ukrainian Orthodox Church buildings. Seeing this beautiful architecture always brings me peace of mind, even on days filled with difficult negotiations.
Kiev has many beautifully colored cathedrals, such as St. Sophia Cathedral (a World Heritage Site since 1990), and St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral (an important national cultural property), which has a mesmerizing façade in an elegantly styled contrast of yellow and white.
As I mentioned earlier, we have been operating in the Ukrainian market for more than a decade and know that we can never be complacent about our current position. Aggressively pursuing new business opportunities, we have a number of projects in the pipeline. For example, the Ukrainian government intends to allow foreign companies to acquire ownership of state-owned land. If we can implement an agricultural production project in this vast and fertile farmland, we will definitely be able to achieve our vision of making positive contributions to the food supply. I will continue making my utmost efforts to realize our dreams.