Another Kind of Liberation
A German intends to help liberate Ukraine from hand-outs
M o s c o w – Sometimes a choice exists between good and better. On the issue of humanitarian aid, Dieter Staudt, an agricultural advisor in Lebedin (Sumy region of north-eastern Ukraine) writes: “It is of course laudable when clothes and other daily needs are gathered and sent off to the post-Soviet countries. But this has been going on for 20 years now and has improved little or nothing. That kind of aid should be given for only a limited period and dare not become usual fare. Yet the exact opposite has occurred: “People are sitting around waiting for the next relief shipment. We’re ‘Africanising” people; personal initiatives and creativity are on the way out. The powerful are left to wheel-and-deal solely as they see fit.” Yet this Lutheran, who has been active in Eastern Europe since 2001, admits: “This sounds brutal and must injure those who have invested much in humanitarian work. But the world’s eager helpers must begin to reconsider.”
Staudt is deeply convinced of Ukraine’s agricultural potential. “Ukraine (population 46 mill.) could produce enough food for 300 mill. people – who would dare to claim that this is not wealth!” Yet the populace continues to depend to a large extent on expensive food imports. Production levels remain in the basement: Ukraine is producing 3,5 metric tons of wheat per hectare (2,47 acres) – in Germany that amount is as high as eight metric tons.
Pricing issues are also involved. According to Staudt, no price competition exists between the middlemen purchasing agricultural products from farmers – farmers remain at the mercy of mafia-controlled structures. This is one of the reasons why farms are usually in the red. The leasing fees which large farmers need to pay smaller ones for usage of their land are usually not paid. The landowners therefore receive no income from their land and have no means of purchasing modern farming equipment.
Staudt, who was a businessman in Germany for over 25 years, has since June been turning out feasibility studies for a farm project near Lebedin (population 28.700). He’s planning for the production of vegetables, salads, potatoes and strawberries. He also wants to aid others in starting up small firms producing honey, geese and firewood for export to Germany. Instead of the usual wheat, rye, corn, soybeans or sunflower, this new firm is to cultivate crops which are labour-intensive and offer a larger margin of profit. A major goal is to offer properly-paid work and training to the unemployed. The German intends to start with no fewer than 100 employees – one worker per hectare. The goal is to farming 1.000 hectares within a five-year period.
Potatoes are to be cultivated only after storage room for up to six months has been located. It would then be possible to wait for higher sale prices the following spring. Most of the produce is to be marketed by the farm itself – that would create additional jobs and insure more just pricing. Small shops and sales stands are to encompass not only the Sumy region; exporting to Russia – only 80 km away – is also envisioned. Russia is also importing most of its foods – and the megapolis of Moscow is only 700 km away.
Social institutions such as nurseries are to be supported once the firm begins to turn a profit.
What has already been achieved
The leasing of fields as well as the transfer of buildings and a part of the machinery of a former collective farm have been arranged; sufficient workers are available. “Lebedin has three Protestant congregations and their members are longing to be involved in a project like this one.”
Dieter Staudt has already taken care of political, economic and academic arrangements. The German agricultural universities in Nürtingen and Weihenstephan (Freising near Munich) have supplied contacts to the University of Sumy. Already, this university has inquired about training for its students and promised political support.
A team of Ukrainian consultants is in place – only the necessary foreign specialists are still missing. Whirlwind visits and gift packages will not do – future-oriented support will demand more from helpers. Staudt explains: “We will need to do more than simply jump-start our partners financially. We will need to accompany them, train and teach them sales tactics one-on-one.” Needed are above all machinery experts and horticulturalists; “it would be great if a number of believers feel called”.
This native of Wiesbaden is not modest when it comes to start-up capital for his new company, „Nadezhda“ (Hope): Gifts and credits of no less than 700.000 Euros ($980.000 US) are expected. Needed are also a greenhouse, washing and packaging machinery for potatoes, refrigeration for strawberries, seed and a machine for sawing and splitting firewood. The strategist behind the project assures: “The calculations on our innovative business plan assure potential investors that they can count on substantial profit.”
The recent past
The experiences of this 61-year-old businessman have led him to conclude that the financial ethics of East European investors – including the Christian ones – are less-than-satisfactory. He has needed to come to terms with significant disappointments. His St. Petersburg firm marketing kitchen utensils was initially a solid success. After a Moscow fair in 2007, sales tripled. But during a sojourn in Germany, Staudt’s partner emptied the firm’s Russian bank account; the firm was not able to recover from that blow. Today he states in retrospect: “Actually, the project was a success – it was only wrecked in the end by the vagaries of its key players.”
In late 2007 he also joined a project involving two former collective farms in the region of Pskov near the Estonian border. As chief planner he saw to it that extensive technical and economic strategies were developed. Today he reports: “Unfortunately, some of the owners’ numbers were dishonest. That gave the entire enterprise unsolid footing and led to debts not being repaid.”
This German remains convinced that if we believers intend to get close to our claims of being salt and light, then we “dare not contribute to the deformations of post-socialist capitalism. We need to steer clear of everything that reeks even the slightest of corruption – even if that costs us something. We need to be honest and open with each other and not see those coming from the West as ‘piggy banks worthy of immediate slaughter’.”
Staudt offers an example for such „premature slaughter“: „In St. Petersburg I asked a Baptist contractor for a quote on a renovation I was planning. Once I had it on the table, I could not believe my eyes. His price was four times more than I had estimated. When the contractor noticed my irritation, he suggested doing the job ‘unofficially’ by skipping all taxes. He of course did not get the job.”
Why is Dieter Staudt back at it after a two-year recess? He responds: “It was not my idea to come to Ukraine. Because of my negative experiences, I was by no means keen on Ukraine. But one kept on asking me. What keeps me going is my belief in the Risen Lord. He chose me without me ever having earned it. Serving him with the talents he has given me is simply an expression of my gratitude. These include involvement in economic pioneer work in difficult settings.”
He concludes: „We would dry up if we had no dreams. Of course, not all dreams are fulfilled, but without dreams, nothing happens.” I cannot imagine anything more fulfilling than “cooperating with brave people possessing dreams and daring plans”. Among these “brave people” are for him more than just a few East Europeans.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 08 November 2011
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance
Note from June 2020: Dieter Staudt dropped out of this project around 2013.
A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-23, 1.273 words, 7.594 keystrokes and spaces.