Ukrainian civil society resists efforts to be co-opted by big agro
The controversial Ukrainian agribusiness giant Myronivsky Hliboproduct (MHP) tries to handle community relations by putting publicity spin on the outcomes of a long overdue discussion with civil society.
Vladlena Martsynkevych, Caucasus & Central Asia officer | 20 September 2017
The controversial Ukrainian agricultural company Myronivsky Hliboproduct (MHP) may be determined to further expand its operations, for which it has already bagged over half a billion euros in financing from three international financial institutions in recent years, but in the central Ukraine region of Cherkasy the company is not getting its own way.
There, in the historic town of Chyhyryn, the MHP subsidiary Peremoha Nova has since 2015 had designs on developing a major poultry production facility. It’s a project that could bring approximately one million chickens to the area, in close proximity to the village of Ratseve. As I’ve written about earlier this year, Peremoha Nova’s efforts to implement the project and its engagement with local communities has provoked a storm of controversies, including violent assaults against people opposed to the way in which the company is proposing to proceed in the region.
At issue has been the preliminary environmental assessment for the project which Peremoha Nova released for consultation in late 2016.
Its contents raised many eyebrows in Chyhyryn. For instance, the assessment failed to provide for a sanitary protection zone which is required by Ukrainian law: residential areas could thus be exposed to excessive levels of pollution from the poultry facilities under the company’s plans. Also missing is an assessment of the project’s potential impacts on potable water in Chyhyryn, not to mention a lack of information on the volumes of wastewater that will need purification and treatment. Air pollution threats too are neglected by the assessment, with a lack of clarity on how emissions from the poultry facilities will be handled.
These shortcomings and more were strongly voiced in sceptical community feedback to the plans, but the company has been oblivious to these concerns. Locals fear, that the company, instead of dealing with the community’s reservations, is signing individual land lease deals with some locals, in contradiction with the community’s majority opinion.
Hence in April and July this year, and only after 70 protestors from Chyhyryn in February descended on the mother company MHP’s headquarters in Kiev (and this too after numerous appeals to government officials as well as the Ukrainian president), representatives from Bankwatch sat down with the company to attempt to iron out differences and come to a better mutual understanding on the company’s overall performance and approach.
Previously in July the meeting with representatives from the Chyhyryn Regional State Administration made it clear that Peremoha Nova had yet to receive permission to start amending the ‘detailed territorial plan’ of the rayon (a sub-regional administrative division in Ukraine) encompassing the village of Ratseve. Procedurally, this is the first mandated step required to obtain the necessary permission documents for such a project.
The widespread concerns over the environmental assessment continued to be glossed over by the company, and following the meeting local activist Nina Martynovska, who was beaten up in February this year, summed it up:
“What we heard is pretty unambiguous. The company is sticking to its guns and continues to try to push forward its project against the will of 80 percent of the people in Ratseve. As things stand, with so many question marks hanging over the project and our valid concerns unanswered, it goes without saying that Peremoha Nova is unwelcome in our region.”
It took a few weeks, however, for MHP to put out an alternative take on the proceedings of the meeting, with its issuing of a press release entitled ‘MHP Establishes Cooperation with Public Organisations’.
Cribbing liberally from the stock ‘How to handle uppity civil society’ corporate playbook, MHP informs that:
“During the discussion, particular problems of certain communities and territories were presented and further steps to improve the relations and establish fruitful cooperation with all the representatives of the public were outlined.”
This interpretation of the proceedings is at odds with those of us from Bankwatch and our community partners – concretely, there has been no movement from the company since last December’s preliminary environmental assessment, including no response to the outstanding concerns with that assessment. Merely turning up to a meeting, and then not acting on valid concerns, does not entail ‘cooperation’.
As the company’s bogus press release claims seeped into local media, Ratseve residents protested on August 22 near the Chyhyryn Rayon Council against Peremoha Nova’s creeping efforts to obtain the necessary permission for amending Ratsevo’s territorial plan, the first step in advancing the industrial poultry house venture.
While this project is not being directly financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corporation and the European Investment Bank, institutions which have supported MHP’s ascent to become Ukraine’s largest agricultural conglomerate, the cavalier approach to stakeholder engagement and public consultation being taken by one of its subsidiaries begs questions about the supposed positive impact these banks are having on the corporate culture of one of their blue-eyed boys in Ukraine.
‘Managing’ community relations via press release spin not only fails to address sensitive underlying issues – it also only worsens sentiment and further provokes bad feeling within communities like Ratsevo.