[Video blog] Glory to the tomato!
If you looked at this town from above you would see lines and lines of giant structures which could be mistaken for spaceships. The truth is that these are infact enormous greenhouses where thousands upon thousands of plants are nurtured from seed to fruit, ready for sale.
This town is also where many of HOPE Ukraine’s clients live, taking loans to build greenhouses, buy seeds, develop heating systems and ultimately make a profit to look after their family.
Kamenka-Dneprovskaya is a rural town which sits on the bank of the Dniper river in Eastern Ukraine. This area has been inhabited for thousands of years. Today, Kamenka is a hub of Ukrainian agriculture- with the Dniper river providing natural irrigation and the town built on low ground with fertile land, it is no wonder that hundreds of Ukrainians have started their farming businesses here.
Agriculture makes up nearly 16% of the labour force in the Ukraine, with grain, sugar beets, sunflower seeds and vegetables forming the majority of agricultural production. Kameka is famous for tomatoes. So famous in fact, that people travel from as far afield as Moscow to visit the farmers here to buy their delicious crops.
Driving into Kamenka, I was blown away by the rows upon rows of huge greenhouses- giant domed structures some 60 metres long and 8 metres high, covered in thick plastic to protect the crops from the elements. Some of the more advanced greenhouses had inbuilt irrigation and heating systems to make the most out of the crops. These greenhouses are the essence of this town.
HOPE Ukraine identified an opportunity here 18 months ago when they started providing agricultural loans in the region. A client takes a loan at the beginning of the season in January to invest in materials to build their greenhouses, fertiliser, seeds; everything they need to get their farm up and running. One client we visited had invested his loan into building a structure to protect his huge wood burner which provides heat to all of his greenhouses. For the next few months, the client works on his business, planting the thousands of seeds to grow and nurture. Once he is able to make a significant yield (often some 5/6 months later), he then has the money to pay the loan back in bulk. These loans provide significant and vital support to these farmers at the beginning of what is often a difficult and extremely hardworking season.
The greenhouse system is quite magic. The farmers are able to start planting their crops long before the season should naturally be able to start- often whilst the Winter snow is still underfoot. The greenhouses are staged; the seeds are sown and seedlings grow for a month in the smaller preparatory greenhouse, before they are moved into the large greenhouse for another month before harvesting (whilst leaving space for another crop in the preparatory greenhouse).
One HOPE client, Vitaly, invited me into his house for coffee and homemade biscuits and we were able to talk about his business. With thousands of plants grown every year during this extended season, tomato farming is often a family affair. He told me how his wife worked during the day as a teacher, then helps out with the family business in the evenings. Although during our conversation Vitaly talked of the challenges he faces; 18 hour days, increased and variable prices and limited capital for the growth that he dreams of, it was very clear to me that he was extremely grateful for his loan, and that tomato farming is his passion. He simply exuded energy and enthusiasm every time he answered my questions.
It was a pleasure spending the day with these clients, and I’ll leave you with the only thing that seems appropriate; the monument in the centre of Kamenka which exclaims “Слава Помидору!” (Glory to the Tomato!).
I hope you enjoy the video of our trip.'
by Jacqueline Gunn, KF14 Hope Ukraine