Russia’s Attempt at Agricultural Independence

Food security is a major concern for any country and when you are the head of a state covering 170 million square kilometers with around 140 million people it is important that you take the issue seriously. President Dimitry Medvedev is doing just that by signing an executive order concerning the Russian Federation’s Food Security Doctrine on February 1, 2010.

The doctrine is part of the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation through to 2020. Its objective: to guarantee food supplies, develop agriculture and create mechanisms for swift response to internal and external threats to the food market. This is a truly noble initiative for a state where 10% of the population is engaged in agricultural production.

Overall, this is a document which sets the share of domestically produced meat, fish and other foodstuffs in the overall volume of supplies of the respective products on the domestic market. These figures are then used as the criteria for evaluating the food security situation in the country. According to these threshold values, the agricultural sector in Russia should produce: not less than 95% of grain; not less than 80% of sugar; not less than 80% of vegetable oil; not less than 85% of meat; not less than 90% of milk; not less than 80% of fish; not less than 95% of potatoes; not less than 85% of table salt. In this way, the country will become almost completely self-sufficient when it comes to food.

President Medvedev also expressed his belief that with the right developments, this program will help not only Russia but its neighbors as well. Which states he meant was not specified, but an educated guess points at the Central Asian republics, which often face problems in the area of food security. This is explained by the constant over-production of food in the EU and the self-sufficiency of China, leaving only the countries on the southern border of Russia.

Nevertheless, the attempt by the Russian Federation to become one of the world’s biggest food exporters is admirable. During the time of the Soviet Union, the biggest emphasis was on industrial production, but since 1990 that has declined drastically. A new focus on developing the country’s agricultural sector says two things.

First, Russia is playing its strengths by focusing on reducing food imports and therefore relying less on foreign production. In a way, this resembles the Soviet goal of autarky in industrial production, but the aim is different: ensuring food security for the population, rather than winning an ideological battle with capitalism.

Second, Russia is heading for some trouble if this plan succeeds. An increase in agricultural spending would drive people to the country-side and encourage their engagement in food producing activities. With 10% of the population already employed in this effort, a further increase in the sector could lead to overproduction and cost the state a lot of money, similar to the results of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy which gives financial support to farmers. Also, placing so much focus on the primary sector of the economy is typical for a pre-industrial society, which Russia is not. Is it perhaps sinking into such a state of affairs though?

On the whole, the plan to make Russia self-sufficient and ensure food security for itself, and possibly for some of its neighbors, is ambitious. Whether it will lead to real security or isolation from the global market remains to be seen. What we in the EU can be sure of is that exporting primary agricultural products to Russia will no longer be an option.

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