Last year, Vasyl Stefurak, shepherd farmer from one of the villages of Pechenizhenska amalgamated hromada of the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, was invited to work in Turkey. He was offered high salary, the best working conditions. But he refused and stayed in the Carpathians, because he had a plan how to save the Ukrainian shepherding and enable his native land to develop.
Vasyl Stefurak is 42 years old, has 200 heads of purebred sheep, often wears traditional Hutsul clothing, skillfully plays the jaw harp, helps other shepherds, and believes that Hutsuls and sheep are inseparable.
From childhood he was engaged in traditional Carpathian sheep breeding, while working in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan he saw how sheep are bred there. And almost two years ago, as a participant of the 1st season of the “Million-Hryvnia Hromada”, he traveled to Austria to study and took over the best European experience, and saw how centuries-old traditions can be backed up by modern technologies.
Based on his own experience and being inspired by what he has seen in Europe, Mr Stefurak has developed a project to revive Ukrainian sheep farming. It is a project worth millions of hryvnias, so this summer he tried to submit it to the State Programme for the Development of the Ukrainian Carpathian Region for 2020-2022, which the Government is to consider at the end of September. We discussed with Mr. Stefurak the importance and prospects of this project.
Tell a bit about yourself. Why is the topic of sheep breeding so acute for you?
I do not imagine the Carpathians without sheep. Hutsul and sheep are the foundation of our lives here.
I was born and raised in the Carpathians, in the village of Molodyatyn, Kolomyia Rayon, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. We always had sheep at home.
Seven years ago, at adult, I returned to my village. I saw the terrible decline of my native land. It was not at all like the picture that had remained in my imagination since childhood – when the Hutsuls grased huge flocks on the slopes of the green Carpathians.
Then I decided to stay here and revive sheep breeding.
Right and wrong, I then found 10 rams of different breeds. It took me 5 years to adapt the best European breeds to our conditions and to develop good breed in Ukraine.
Pedigree sheep adapted to Ukrainian conditions
What problems do shepherds face, why is the industry declining?
First, we do not have the conditions for the normal import and export of animals. And this is not evidence-free. Apparently, everyone remembers that loud scandal when 300 expensive purebred sheep died of starvation in Odesa port, because they might have been sick. Then about 60 valuable animals died and no one was held responsible.
What is the very problem?
The procedure for importing, for example, a ram is as follows: you go to Austria, for example, order a purebred animal there, quarantine it for a month, then prepare the documents and bring it to the customer. But on our border, the ram is being quarantined for another month. And this is the death of the animal, because the conditions of our maintenance are far from the European ones. This issue needs to be addressed at the state level.
But somehow purebred animals still get to Ukraine?
Now I'll tell you the wild thing. Among shepherds and goat breeders there is such a concept as “carried-in” ram or goat. Why is it “carried-in”? Because in Europe, they buy a small animal two to three weeks old and literally carry it in women's bags through the border, not as an agricultural animal, but as a domestic dog or cat.
Importing and exporting animals is not the only problem, right?
Of course. Nor are we able to make normal, civilised profits on sheep production.
We sell wool for 10-12 hryvnias per kilogram. It is bought by the Chinese, they produce thread out of it and sell us the same wool, but already in a product and ten times more expensive.
There is also the problem of wild animals. We are not allowed to kill wolves, that sometimes cause great harm to shepherds.
In addition, the Centre for Animal Identification works very inefficiently in the country.
And also state veterinary medicine! It is now a punitive body, not an assistant one, as it should be. Getting any certificate at the vet service is a nightmare.
Vasyl Stefurak already helps the shepherds, but his efforts are not enough
Recently, in your speech at the roundtable in Ivano-Frankivsk on the development of the Ukrainian Carpathians, you said that you are already helping shepherds and goat breeders. What exactly are you doing?
First of all, I have the experience and knowledge I share with colleagues to help make their work more effective. In addition, I give goat breeders a thoroughbred male goats.
I also give pedigree rams, but not for free.
I am ready to continue to help with my knowledge, experience and rams. But one me and even a dozen members of the shepherds’ association we have recently created are not enough to make rapid changes in the industry, revive sheep farming and stimulate the development of mountainous areas. This is where the arm of the state is needed.
To the best of my knowledge, you propose to create a Sheep Breeding Development Centre under the Association of Ahepherds with the support of the state and to extend your experience to the whole country. Tell please more about this idea.
30 years ago, there were about 20 million sheep in Ukraine. Now – about 200-300 thousand. Do you feel the scale of the problem? The potential of our country is at least 100 million. But nobody develops this potential.
That is why I had the idea to unite my colleagues in the Association and create a Sheep Breeding Revival Centre with the support of the state.
What exactly will this Centre include, what will it deal with and how much money will it require to be launched?
The Centre should be constantly engaged in the improvement, adaptation and acclimatisation of the best breeds of sheep. The Centre should also promote the production of meat, cheese and other sheep products. And these products should be sold under one brand, which will be trusted both in Ukraine and in the world.
Well, we have to prepare purebred dogs for grazing and guarding the flocks.
All things considered, well, we will need about UAH 100 millions for a few years. But on a statewide scale, it is a penny.
Do you think the Centre will be profitable?
I am sure it will! The Centre has to be and will become profitable, will pay off and will maintain itself in future. The work of shepherds will also become more civilised, profitable, and therefore advantageous for the state, since these are good taxes.
Are the shepherds ready to work openly?
I see that people are ready to change and cooperate with the authorities, to get out of the shadows, pay taxes, disseminate their experience throughout the country. But they need to understand why they have to do it all – that their taxes will not go into the pocket of an official, but to the development of territories, industries, and therefore – to the development of the country.
Carpathians without sheep are hard to imagine
Have you ever tried to make a business project out of this and cope without the state?
No, I don't want it. I want sheep breeding to remain with the Hutsuls. Only then will the Hutsuls themselves remain, only thus the Carpathians will have a chance for development.
Of course, this project could be made purely commercial – grants or money of some holding company could be attracted. But I do not want someone to work and others to earn.
The point is to support small farms, create jobs, keep the shepherding tradition, save the Carpathians after all, and not just give some monopolist a chance to gain profit.
What about the land? Shepherds need huge areas, where to get them?
I thought about it. There are land plots in the “shrubs” category, only our hromada has a couple of hundred hectares. There are also river protection zones. I do not understand why these land cannot be adapted for grazing? They are perfect for this.
Vasyl Stefurak tells about his project in MinRegion
Were you able to convince the officials of the need for your project?
I knocked on every door I could. There are indeed some officials who want to do something for the country. But the general system works against it. I had great hope for the previous authorities, but it did not come true. Now they offer to do everything together. So let's do it!
At the roundtables dedicated to the development of the Carpathians, many projects concerned construction of roads and bridges. This is great and necessary.
Fortunately, I was heard and understood. As soon as, Vyacheslav Nehoda, Deputy Minister of MinRegion, whom I met at the roundtable meeting in Ivano-Frankivsk, heard about my project, he immediately said that such initiatives should be supported as priority. Later in the west in Kyiv, Minister Alyona Babak quickly understood my idea. She asked, where is the official who was supposed to help me write this programme? She asked for the initial figures, and MinRegion helped to arrange everything correctly...
I want to believe in the support of the state. If we do not help the shepherds now, the farms will certainly not vanish, but these farms will have European owners. We have nothing to ask our neighbours for. We have everything ourselves. All we have to do is appreciate and develop what we have.
According to MinRegion, Vasyl Stefurak’s project got to the project of the State Programme for the Development of the Region of the Ukrainian Carpathians for 2020-2022. The total amount of its financing is UAH 43 million, incl. UAH 31 million from the state budget.
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