P.E.I. is helping Ukraine rebuild its economy by sharing its expertise in a field it is known for around the world — growing potatoes.
Razom Invest Canada, a P.E.I.-based company headed by former Malpeque MP Wayne Easter, began teaching Ukrainians how to plant and harvest potatoes on a large scale last year.
Easter said the idea came about in 2022 at a Rebuild Ukraine conference in Toronto.
"The prime minister of Ukraine spoke there and he said this: He said the economic front is as important as the military front in terms of Ukraine's future, and businesses and Canadian investors need to be in Ukraine now."
An early crop of potatoes from a field in Luhyny, Ukraine. (Submitted by Wayne Easter)
Potatoes are a food staple in Ukraine, but there is currently a shortage there because of the war with Russia.
"They imported something like 40 per cent of their potatoes from Belarus, and they're not on good terms [with] Belarus at the moment, so that's opened up some opportunity," Easter said in an interview with Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.
The first crop was grown and harvested in the town of Luhyny, in western Ukraine, with the help of equipment brought in from the Netherlands.
But there was a glitch. Easter said they couldn't use P.E.I. seeds because of the ongoing export restrictions imposed by the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency.
So they were forced to buy their seed from Scotland. It yielded a crop "equivalent to one of the better crops on Prince Edward Island" that is in storage and being sold into the local food chain, he said.
Razom is now hoping to expand to other farming industries in Ukraine in hopes of developing further trade relations.
"Prince Edward Island has a lot of expertise in the agriculture area," Easter said.
Easter spent about 40 days in Ukraine, and his partner about 100. He said the Ukrainian farmers are eager to continue the project.
He plans to go back to the country in March to help plan for the upcoming planting season.
"It was a real joy to work with the Ukrainian people and to work with the people on the farm.... There's an agrologist on this farm we're working, and to see his smile and be so proud of this crop…."
The war with Russia is mainly in the eastern part of Ukraine, but it limits what can be done with their cash crops along the Black Sea. But Easter said many grocery stores are stocked similar to how they are in Canada.
"Ukrainians are getting on with their lives, and, yes, there are air raid sirens, and, yes, there's missiles coming into the west, and it is a country at war. But they're getting on with their lives and the West has to be there in every way they can be to help the Ukrainians out."