Grandma vs. Danish agroholding: Long-lasting conflict over the land

UKRAINE/2016-ongoing
Maria Antoniv is not a defenseless old lady as may seem

“The cheeks full of wrinkles covered by a floral pattern scarf inspire the image of a kind diminutive grandmother from folk tales. However, you should not underestimate the 63-year-old Maria Vasylivna.” That’s how the local media described this unexpected yet fierce eco-activist in June 2013. She has been fighting for clean water and odour-free air in her home village threatened by foreign-owned pig farms. The case has even reached the IFC’s Office of the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman.

Axzon is a Danish meat production company operating in four countries. It employs almost 2500 workers and sells more than a million pigs annually, with its total revenue exceeding 200 million euros in 2016. Ukrainian pensioner Maria Vasylivna Antoniv has been opposing their local subsidiary Danosha (renamed Goodvalley Ukraine in 2018) for almost fifteen years now.

“In the summer, my son and daughter used to swim in the river and catch fish;
they picked raspberries and slept in a tent. I want my grandsons to do the same.”

Danosha entered the Ukrainian market in 2004 through buying an existing pig complex in Kopanky, in the Kalush region of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast.

The very next year the company wanted to expand onto the land of the village of Sivka-Voynylivska; however, the community, led by Maria Antoniv, organized opposition in order to protect their immediate environment and the nearby River Dniester. The reason for this was the alarming example of the nearby village of Luka and the awful smell and water shortage they started experiencing after Danosha became involved.

Back then, Ukrainian law enabled local referenda that allowed citizens to make a binding decision and therefore to vote unanimously against the construction.

“This is our land and we will keep it healthy and untouched for future generations.”

The company pressed charges soon after since they believed in their legal right to be on that land, only for the court to discover multiple breaches of the law by Danosha while it was obtaining the lease from the village council. After that, the company had no other option than to give up the land in Sivka-Voynylivska, saying that they would not impose their work and presence on this area since “the values ​​of the company are based on partnership with the locals, mutual respect, and trust”.

Respect and trust haven’t lasted long

Danosha obtained vast areas of land around the village for growing grain for fodder. Moreover, they developed necessary yet unplanned infrastructure, and thus, a field road became a paved one without any consent on the part of the owners of the land. The widening of the road took place without the people’s agreement and nowadays, the supporting road infrastructure prevents people from entering their own plots of land.

Since the direct discussions with the company were ineffective, in February 2014, the villagers appealed to the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman (CAO), who oversees projects financed or supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), such as the ones belonging to Danosha. In the complaint, the affected residents of the Ivano-Frankivsk region raised a number of environmental and social concerns about the impacts of Axzon/Danosha’s pork production operations.

In the following two years, CAO organized a series of trilateral meetings, but sadly, with only minor results. Regardless of the fact that they collected data on the water and air pollution themselves, the villagers of Sivka-Voynylivska were not provided with any environmental information proving the company’s production does no harm to the environment since the representatives of Danosha refused to disclose such documents.

In 2016, the IFC provided the company with yet another loan, despite the ongoing and unresolved process of mediation, causing the village representatives to terminate the meetings. It was then that the community members especially felt the pressure.

“Several complainants from Sivka-Voynylivska reported feeling pressured
or even under physical threat as a result of their steps against Danosha.”

Nowadays the 68-year-old Antoniv finds it difficult to talk about what she and her family have been through.

Meanwhile, the case has been transferred to the CAO Compliance Review for appraisal of IFC’s performance in relation to the project. Another round of investigations will be conducted as to whether the company adhered to the required standards in its activities and stakeholder engagement.

“While CAO is unable to determine the veracity of the perceived threat,
it takes the safety of complainants and others that cooperate in the CAO process seriously.”

Axzon decided to change its name in 2017. From the end of February 2018 on the company, together with all its subsidiaries, including Danosha, will be called ‘Goodvalley’.

Recently, the company released plans to expand with more farms in the neighbouring village of Luka and the villagers of Sivka-Voynylivska are alarmed again. The fight continues.

Status as of February 2018


Further reading

ENG 09/11/2017 COMPLAINT - CAO Cases: Ukraine / Axzon-01/Halych and Kalush (Cao-ombudsman.org)

ENG 30/08/2017 Photogallery: Trip to Danosha pig farms in Ivano-Frankivsk region (Arnika.org)

UKR 21/08/2017 Ecoaction will help rural communities protect their environment (Ecoaction.org.ua)

UKR 16/08/2017 The community tries to resist Danish company 'Danosha' in Kalush region - video (Golos-info.com)

ENG 03/02/2014 CAO Cases: Ukraine / Axzon-01/Halych and Kalush >> Documents (Cao-ombudsman.org)

UKR 21/10/2013 The #1 enemy for Danish pig farm is an Ukrainian grandam (Pryroda.in.ua)