Agriculture: A New Way for the UK and Central Asian Countries to Partner Amidst Ukraine Crisis
May 17, 2022
Amidst Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, the UK’s agricultural sector will be left at a crossroads in 2022. Russia and the United Kingdom have for a long time, shared a productive relationship, and so too with Ukraine. Just in 2021, the UK issued 22,761 visas to people from Russia and Ukraine….almost half of the visas issued by the UK that year. However, due to the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine, these visas are bound to decrease.
While the UK has traditionally been a hub for engagement for Russian individuals, this relationship has not come without its fair share of criticism and scandal. However, amidst Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, the UK has shown, through sanctions and shows of solidarity from politicians, that its relationship with Russia will look very different moving forward. One unexpected way the straining of this relationship will affect Britain is through food security and agriculture.
Because of the war, the UK has already extended the visas of many seasonal agricultural workers from Ukraine that were already in the UK. While this will greatly help the food security risk for the summer, the gap will need to be further offset. Even before the crisis in Ukraine, the UK was already facing a labour shortage in the agricultural sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit. With a dearth of the usual migrant agricultural workers coming from Russia the UK has already began enlisting the help of workers from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
This would be beneficial to the UK’s agricultural sector, especially amongst fears surrounding food security post-Brexit. Furthermore, it would provide a welcome alternative to agricultural workers from Central Asia who have traditionally worked seasonally in Russia in years past. This will be an especially important change because the safety and livelihood of seasonal workers from Central Asia have been collateral damage during this conflict.
These workers have been increasingly laid off from their jobs in Russia, since many businesses have had to downsize due to the devaluing of the Russian Ruble. The economies of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in particular are especially dependent on remittances from Russia. As of 2021, remittances made up 31.3% and 26.7% of Kyrgyzstan’s and Tajikistan’s GDPs, respectively. Of that year, 83% of Kyrgyzstan’s remittances and 58% of Tajikistan’s remittances came from Russia. These amounts have already begun to drop since the beginning of the war, leaving their economies in a perilous position.
Furthermore, Russia has been coercing migrant workers from Central Asia to fight in the Russian army against Ukraine. Their citizenship statuses have been used as leverage to convince these workers of the necessity to fight in the war, and there have already been reports of fatalities of conscripts from Central Asia.
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has recently demonstrated his advocacy for Ukraine amidst the military struggle through visiting Kiev as well as through explicitly voicing his support through his speech to the Ukrainian Parliament. Through this support, it would make all the more sense for the UK to establish itself as a steadfast partner of countries in the region, by supporting strength of sovereignty, be it through security, economy, or agriculture.
Enlisting the help from Central Asian countries in particular would not only help offset the void left due to the cooling of UK-Russia relations, but it would also bolster the economies of these countries, strengthening their sovereignty amidst Russia’s increased belligerence. Not to mention, following the uncertainty regarding food security in the UK following Brexit, there will be an increased incentive to bolster its farming sector instead of paying hefty import fees. Facilitating a stronger seasonal-worker visa scheme and ensuring proper working conditions would therefore help the UK’s farming sector, all while strengthening sovereignty in Central Asia.