4 July 2022

Opinion of the month: “There is an urgent need for ready-to-eat food”

Interview with André Pilling, German Food Bridge, about food aid for Ukraine.

“The barbaric war of aggression against Ukraine – a situation that has affected us deeply both personally and as a business – has demonstrated that public affairs work can also extend far beyond lobbying activities. As a cooperative, REWE Group firmly believes that we must face such times of crisis together; for example, by playing a role in helping to address the huge challenge of providing the people in Ukraine with urgently needed food. This is why, we began working closely with the German Food Bridge, an initiative of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture, at the beginning of March. Together, we have already sent approximately 70 trucks carrying more than half a million litres of drinking water and over 1,000 tons of food to the region.

For our Opinion of the Month, we spoke to André Pilling about the work of the German Food Bridge. The situation on the ground continues to be dramatic, and the people there urgently need help and support.”

Emilie Bourgoin, Head of Public Affairs, REWE Group

A portrait of André Pilling.
André Pilling

is project manager of the Agriretail Ukraine project of the BMEL of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

Emilie Bourgoin

is the Head of Public Affairs at REWE Group.

Emilie Bourgoin: Mr Pilling, you and your team succeeded in bringing initial shipments of humanitarian aid to Ukraine at the beginning of March. Can you tell us about the work the German Food Bridge has been doing since 24 February of this year?

André Pilling: When Russia began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, this presented a completely new situation and new challenges for the bilateral cooperation project Agriretail Ukraine (ATU), which is supported by the Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture. The project team drew on its established contacts with German food retailers to raise donations. Building on this initiative, the Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture set up German Food Bridge, a coordination office for food donations, at the beginning of March as an integral part of the ATU project.

An elderly Ukrainian woman accepts a food donation.

Emilie Bourgoin: What is the role of the coordination office?

André Pilling: The coordination office was created with the aim of rapidly bringing food aid to where it is most urgently needed in Ukraine, thus contributing to alleviating the humanitarian crisis the war has caused. Since 22 March, the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce has made the coordination office team’s work much easier with the provision of free office space.

The coordination office processes official requests from Ukraine and donation offers from companies, businesses and initiatives within the German food industry. Since some of the donors do not have their own logistics, the coordination office, in cooperation with DB Cargo, organises the free transport of the goods to Polish interim storage facilities on the donors’ behalf. From there, the donations are transported to Ukraine by rail.

Emilie Bourgoin: What happens next from within Ukraine?

André Pilling: Seventy-five percent of the donations received go to state authorities and 25 percent to NGOs in Ukraine. We are now cooperating with more than 48 NGOs, including some that can manage the logistics side. With their support, donations from Germany have already been successfully delivered to Mykolaiv, Odessa, Kharkov, Donetsk, Luhansk, Irpin and Bucha.

An important task of the coordination office is also to provide information about the project and attract new donors in order to meet the ever-growing demand.
Starting with the first delivery on 2 March, 389 trucks have been sent to different parts of Ukraine and 11,307 food pallets have been delivered through 30 June. Sixty-five donor organisations have participated in the initiative to date.

The number of donors and their names, where disclosed, are published on the website of the Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture, which is updated regularly.

Emilie Bourgoin: How are the food donations then distributed to the different regions in Ukraine? Are you still managing to reach all regions of the country?

André Pilling: The coordination office primarily operates two distribution channels. The first is the state channel, with which we have been cooperating since the first shipment. In coordination with the official Ukrainian state institutions, the Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture and the Ukrainian Ministry for Development of Economy and Trade in particular, our humanitarian aid is delivered to a central warehouse in Poland, where it is then loaded onto Ukrainian railway containers. These are then transported across the western Ukrainian border to the individual regions.

On 22 April, in cooperation with the German-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the German-Ukrainian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, we opened another logistics centre near the Polish-Ukrainian border. Through this hub, we use trucks and vans to distribute goods to NGOs, which then transport the goods, partly directly and partly via other distribution points, to all regions of Ukraine that are in need of food aid. We are currently receiving requests from 15 regions in Ukraine where we are able to ship deliveries. This does not include occupied territories such as Mariupol, as we cannot obtain reliable information about the intended use there.

Emilie Bourgoin: What level of donations have you received to date? Which goods are currently most urgently needed?

André Pilling: So far, we have received over 389 truckloads in donations. There remains an urgent need for non-refrigerated, ready-to-eat food in particular, such as canned food and preserves of any kind, baby food, bread with a long shelf life and snacks such as nuts, crisps, protein or chocolate. Beverages such as water, juice, tea and (instant) coffee are also needed, as are staples: sugar, salt, flour, rice, bulgur wheat, oats, couscous and cooking oil. Fresh fruit and vegetables with a long shelf life are also needed.

If necessary, we can also arrange for the donated food to be collected in complete truckloads, if the donor is unable to arrange their own logistics for delivery to the hubs in Poland.

Emilie Bourgoin: You are in very close contact with your colleagues in Ukraine on a daily basis. How do you see the situation on the ground?

André Pilling: There are three Ukrainian women on my team: one at our office in Hamburg, one in Poland and one in Kyiv, and they are all still in contact with relatives and acquaintances in Ukraine. They report daily about the great deprivations and suffering that many people are experiencing there, especially women and children.

I have also had many conversations with representatives of the NGOs we work with at our hub in Dębica, on the Polish-Ukrainian border. During these conversations, what has been repeatedly pressed home is the desperate need in the regions particularly affected by the war and how grateful the people there are for any form of aid. This is also the situation for the high number of refugees and displaced persons in Ukraine.

Since February 24, more than 15.7 million Ukrainians have urgently needed humanitarian aid and protection. Six million people have fled the country, and well over seven million have been displaced within Ukraine. In Zaporizhia, for example, there are now 130,000 refugees from eastern parts of the country who need support. The same situation is being experienced across almost all regions of the country.

Emilie Bourgoin: Mr Pilling, how can people actively support the work of your coordination office?

André Pilling: An important way to support us is by giving us a platform to raise awareness about the German Food Bridge and our food donations for the people of Ukraine and provide information about the impressive volume of donations already provided. Our German Food Bridge really does rely on the donations, and we thank you and all participating companies for your support. If we can reach even more companies in the food and food retail industry and convince them to donate to our project, we can maintain and, ideally, even increase our shipments to Ukraine. All contact details can be found on the website of the Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture (BMEL – Internationales – German Food Bridge für Lebensmittelhilfen der Ernährungswirtschaft in die Ukraine). My team and I will be happy to respond to all enquiries.

About the German Food Bridge for food aid to Ukraine from the food sector

The German Food Bridge coordination office supports companies in the food sector and food retail industry as well as other organisations that want to contribute to the supply of food aid to the people of Ukraine. The coordination office is an integral part of the bilateral cooperation project Agriretail Ukraine of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

André Pilling

A portrait of André Pilling.

André Pilling, 43, studied Business Administration and has worked in the food retail sector in a variety of different roles for more than 20 years. He has been project manager of the Agriretail Ukraine project of the Bilateral Cooperation Programme of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture since 2017. His general retail expertise was acquired through several years’ experience working as a buyer in the headquarters of leading German retail chains, as an export manager in the food industry, and in the development of sustainable start-ups (National Fair Trade Award 2010).

During his almost six years of working in Ukraine, he has participated in over 100 events in 21 regions of Ukraine and numerous trade fairs and has organised seven German-Ukrainian Food Forums within the framework of the project. Since 2018, he has been on the board of the German-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and head of the local Committee for Food and Agriculture. In February 2022, he had to leave the country due to the Russian invasion and, since then, has headed the coordination office for food aid to Ukraine from the food sector/German Food Bridge of the Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture, which falls under the ATU project.

A portrait of André Pilling.