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War Effects on Food systems and Environment (WEFE)

Environmental consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine (Bern, September 2022)

Environmental consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine (Bern, September 2022)

Research network on the effects on food systems and the environment of Russia’s war against Ukraine (War Effects on Food systems and Environment); funded by the German Foundation for Peace Research, FP 08/23 | FB3-UK-FN, since Jan. 25, 2024

Here we keep track of the activities of the WEFE Network, established during a workshop at the Institute of Geography of the University of Bern in September 2022.

Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine combined the destruction of human lives and built environment with havoc to the international security architecture; it also disrupted domestic and international food production and security, ecosystems (with implications for human health), and environmental and climate policies on various levels and with implications for present and future wellbeing, security and peace. Our initiative recognizes the acute need to assess the war-induced disruptions to food production and ecosystems, the contamination of habitation and cultivation areas in Ukraine; and
develop implementable, sustainable solutions for restoring food systems and living areas. We also look beyond the war-induced problems within Ukraine into the environmental and food-related consequences in Ukraine’s neighboring countries (including Russia), the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Most of these countries experienced steep increases in food prices, massive disruptions to food trade routes and food production supply chains, and a sidelining of sustainable development and climate and environmental objectives with important consequences that require immediate attention. The initiative to form our network comes from acknowledging that the war poses multiple problems demanding new approaches, including inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration, as they transcend national and disciplinary boundaries.

The WEFE network brings together researchers, journalists, and NGO activists with a background in various disciplines - sociology, geography, political science, ecology, anthropology, history, legal studies - and research fields - environmental studies, rural, agrarian and food studies, nature conservation, land system sciences, environmental law, peace, conflict and security studies.

Network on-site meetings

- September 2023 at the Freie Universität Berlin

Our second meeting, was organized by Mariia Fatulaeva (U. Bern), Mihai Varga (FU Berlin), Alexander Vorbrugg (U. Bern), and Jiayi Zhou (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Network participants included Angelina Davydova (Ukraine War Environmental Consequences Group), Tetiana Grabovska (Bila Tserkva National Agrarian University, Ukraine), Robert Kindler (FU Berlin), Kateryna Polianska (ICO Environment-People-Law, Ukraine), Maria Tysiachniouk (U. of Eastern Finland).

We developed a network structure prioritizing the following topics: (1) First, the on-the-ground needs of communities and producers in Ukraine are hardly known and require immediate attention. Many communities have initiated reconstruction efforts to regain living and cultivation areas or restore food supply chains; they face enormous decontamination and de-mining challenges and problems accessing critical inputs for resuming agricultural production, including fertilizers, petrol, and electricity. (2) Second, many of the transnational and transregional repercussions of the crisis remain underexplored. Our focus here lies on war-caused reconfigurations within Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which have witnessed steep increases in food prices, massive disruptions to food trade route and food production supply chains, and a sidelining of sustainable development and climate and environmental objectives. (3)Third, agriculture has featured more as an issue of domestic and international food security and less as an area of Building Back Better (to use the terminology of the UNDRR). However, agriculture and environmental issues are critical intervention areas for many reasons: soil erosion and other degradation of farming conditions have been an issue in Ukraine already before the start of the current invasion; the war has had an immense impact on soils, water, flora and fauna, but also agricultural workers, across vast stretches of land; restructuring food systems remains a central and immense challenge for biodiversity and climate worldwide including in Ukraine - as one of the world's top food producers. (4) Fourth, preliminary research has focused on the war’s consequences for civil society engagement, including environmental activism. Exchange among researchers, environmental activists, and journalists is important to understand the environmental movement’s overall transformation due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the transformation of the Russian environmental movement. This will help build more efficient cross-border networks to cope with particular environmental issues. (5) The war poses challenges for conducting research, collecting and accessing data, and collaborating transnationally. Researchers and activists in Ukraine working under war conditions face unprecedented challenges as the scope of the problems caused by the war often overwhelms established capacities for dealing with them.

- September 2022 at the University of Bern

Our first meeting, organized by Alexander Vorbrugg, Angelina Davydova, and Mariia Fatulaeva brough together politically engaged researchers in environmental studies and politics (political ecology, sustainability studies, climate (impact) sciences etc.) who aim at societal impact and work in/on countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia affected by the Russian war and further recent political ruptures. It aimed at sharing and developing resources and strategies to continue and adapt our work under challenging new political circumstances. We see a particular need for this kind of exchange concerning societies and ecologies most directly affected by Russia’s war, namely in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, and other contexts witnessing “spillover” effects of these events, such as Kazakhstan. We are aware of these countries’ fundamentally different roles in the current war and the histories foregoing it and recognize that coming to one table on ecological issues will not be for everyone. Yet, we believe that related developments across these countries provide an urge, and possibly a chance, for jointly advancing strategies. We explicitly welcome participants with close ties and affiliations with these countries.

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