Ukraine and the Netherlands: berry cooperation with a bitter taste of war

In this interview to the trade journal "Yahidnyk" the Ukrainian representative of Fresh Forward Holding BV Anton Dovhanyuk tells about current situation in Ukraine, the links between Dutch and Ukrainian fruit and berry sector and possibilities for further beneficial cooperation.

Beeld: ©Agravery /
Beeld: ©Agravery /

What has changed in the relationship between Ukraine and Dutch agribusinesses during the war in Ukraine?

A lot has changed during last months in fruit and berry sector, both countries are currently experiencing significant losses. I work in the horticultural sector for a long time already and I see, for example, the decrease in sales of certified planting material from the Netherlands to Ukraine. A number of potential projects are suspended now.

Due to military activities and uncertainty about further situation on the market, Ukrainian strawberry nurseries now grow less plants and fewer Dutch varieties. High exchange rate and expensive logistics has a negative impact on exports of seedlings to Ukraine. It became more difficult to manage the propagation licenses of the varieties, PVR enforcement etc.

At the same time, Dutch companies help their Ukrainian partners as much as they can. For example, SVZ International BV helps its Ukrainian partners with export of frozen berries, Dutch breeders don’t require payment of royalties for the period of martial law, other companies employ Ukrainian refuges for seasonal work etc.

Anton with strawberries
Beeld: ©UAgroNL
Anton Dovhanyuk

The Dutch horticultural sector is well-known with its innovations. Despite military actions that negatively affect the world economy, are there any projects running in Ukraine at the moment? If so, what are they?

Of course, Dutch producers and processors continue to work on new products and explore new markets. Dutch breeders proceed with registration of new varieties in Ukraine and running trials here. Due to the global energy crisis and rising prices on crop protection and fertilizers, more attention is paid now to resistant varieties that require less applications of synthetic pesticides.

Good example is the activities of the company Solynta. Despite the current difficulties to import their true potato seeds in Ukraine they succeeded to set up trials of two hybrid potato varieties in Vinnytsia region. This type of seed potato production can substantially reduce delivery costs and simplify phytosanitary control in future.

Beeld: ©UAgroNl

What Ukrainian products are currently interesting for the Dutch business? What are the most promising Dutch products for Ukraine?

Ukrainian berries, fresh and frozen, are usually of high demand in EU. Strawberry, raspberry, cherries, currants, also wild berries like rosehips, elderberries, wild blueberries are always interesting for Dutch processors and traders. This season will be very challenging for the wild berries segment since in the regions of Ukraine which were under occupation or where the military actions took place there is a restriction to visit forests due to the mining and big number of unexploded shells. Along with conventional products there is a steady interest to organic berries. Global organic market and Ukrainian share in it is growing from year to year, according to Rabobank. This Dutch bank, by the way, showed great support to Ukrainian refuges in the Netherlands in opening free bank accounts as well as  by not charging any fees for transactions to Ukraine by private individuals. Some Dutch businesses that operate in Central and Eastern Europe, offer Ukrainian refuges seasonal jobs in berry production and processing companies.

Dutch agro-consultancy has great potential for development in Ukraine. Companies like Delphy can successfully provide advisory services to local farmers especially those who export their products to international markets. The niche of fruit and berry consultancy is quite open in Ukraine.  

SVZ yoghurt
Beeld: ©SVZ / SVZ

Do you think that the Dutch agribusiness will be willing to invest in Ukraine after war?

Ukraine has a great potential, but somebody can be scared to have a strong competitor in Eastern Europe. For example, we hope that the Dutch partners will support the idea to set a joint strawberry nursery.  Due to the war in Ukraine, almost all certified nurseries are either not working or have temporarily suspended their activities. Therefore, in future, the lack of quality strawberry planting material may lead to reduction of the volumes as well as quality of berries in Ukraine. And this will definitely lead to the price increase for 1 class berries. This situation will be quite sensitive for European processors including Dutch ones who count on relatively cheap Ukrainian berries for production of purees, juice concentrates, fruit preps for yogurts and ice cream. So we hope that some Dutch companies will like this idea and invest in strawberry propagation business.

Twist strawberry
Beeld: ©Fresh Forward

You mentioned new varieties that Fresh Forward BV is bringing to market. What exactly are these varieties?

Fresh Forward breeding program has many interesting varieties. One of the most promising for Ukrainian climate and market are strawberry variety Twist and apple variety Natyra.

TWIST is similar to early season varieties like “Allegro” and “Rumba” which are already popular on Ukrainian market. Twist starts to crop much earlier than other varieties, it has good yield and conical berries of bright red colour with an excellent taste. The variety shows a high Brix-level throughout the season, also the calyx takes off easy, which should be interesting to Ukrainian farmers who export IQF strawberry.

NATYRA is a trademark of the SQ159 apple variety, which is allowed to be grown only as an organic apple. The variety has a natural resistance to scab, excellent taste and long shelf life. As a resistant variety, it requires significantly less sprayings against diseases through the whole season. This makes the variety very sustainable for organic market. 

Natyra apple
Beeld: ©Natyra

What other topics are now relevant for Dutch-Ukrainian cooperation in this sector?

Apart from trade and consultancy the Dutch companies are constantly working on bringing the Ukrainian horticultural sector to European standards. Harmonized standards and values will facilitate the strengthening of cooperation between Ukraine and EU. Dutch breeders like Fresh Forward, additionally to marketing and enforcement of their varieties in Ukraine, also participate in different local events and publish articles where explain to Ukrainian partners about plant variety rights, negative impact of illegal propagation, world practice of paying royalty as a pre-condition of getting advanced varieties to the country, contribution of breeding programs to global food security etc.

The Russian-Ukrainian war also disturbed Dutch-Russian relations. After the Russian aggression most of Dutch nurseries and breeding companies stopped or suspended their projects in Russia. It was a difficult decision because of a negative economic effect on the Dutch agribusiness, but this a price we all pay to stop the war and to make our world safe. Ukrainian colleagues appreciate this decision as this is a very sensitive issue here.

Source: Yagidnyk.

2021 Rosetta cherries
Beeld: ©UAgroNL