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PARIS/LONDON: After making it through the spring planting season, sometimes with the help of bulletproof vests and helmets, Ukraine’s farmers are facing another challenge – finding enough diesel for the harvest to come.

The war with Russia cut fuel supplies just as farmers stepped up work for the spring season and they have lost about 85% of their normal supplies since the conflict started on Feb. 24, farmers, fuel distributors and analysts say.

The total area planted with grain this spring is already expected to be up to 30% smaller than last year because of the fighting, and yields could drop too if farmers don’t get fuel so they can apply chemicals and harvest crops at the right time.

Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter last season, shipping staples such as wheat and maize to Africa and the Middle East, as well as supplying half the grain procured by the UN’s World Food Programme for emergency aid.

With Ukraine’s Black Sea ports blockaded, getting crops out is fast becoming a global issue and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is attempting to broker a deal for grain shipments to resume - and calm world food markets.

In the year to the end of June 2021, Ukraine exported 45 million tonnes of grain. It had been expected to ramp that up to 65 million after a record harvest late last year but the war has left some 21 million tonnes stranded in silos across territory it controls as the 2021/22 season comes to an end next month.

And while security has been the most pressing issue for farmers so far, with swathes of land cut off by Russian advances or damaged by shelling, fuel shortages are starting to bite as the next harvest looms.

“Fuel is the biggest problem at the moment, more than anything,” said Kees Huizinga, a Dutch national who runs a 15,000 hectare dairy and crop farm in central Ukraine.

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