Aug 29 | 2018
Think Russia and organic food don’t mix? Guess again. Healthy, greener options are appearing on the nation’s plates with surprising regularity - and President Putin has his eyes set on shaking up worldwide organic food supplies with a new agricultural drive.
Russia sets its eyes on a big organic health food prize
In November 2017, Vladimir Putin set out one of his trademark huge targets. Alongside Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s leader tasked farmers nationwide with turning the nation into the world’s largest organic food exporter.
Following this up, the Russian president signed new law regulating production, storage and transportation of organic food throughout his homeland in August 2018. It won’t enter full force until 2020, but this latest legislation lays the groundwork for a greener farming sector in Russia.
Only products which apply to the conditions in the new bill, and their manufacturers, can be considered “organic”. This law adopts models seen in over 80 countries worldwide, restricting the use of agrochemicals and pesticides in production.
“Producers will be able to request certification of their production methods. We will create a unified state register of such producers, which will be open to the public. Such producers will also be able to receive government support,” Medvedev said in a government meeting on agriculture in January 2018.
Russia is nothing but optimistic regarding its proposed green agricultural law. PM Medvedev believes it could give the nation enough export potential to account for 25% of global organic food supplies.
Despite this, there is a lot of work to do. As it stands, 85% of organic and health foods in Russia are imported.
Don’t let this fool you, though, because demand and desire for this type of foodstuff has been rising steadily throughout Russia.
Russia’s rising organic food market
Domestic demand for organic produce has been steadily rising 10% year-on-year since 2010. Even so, the Russian market only olds a very small percentage of the global value. In Russia, it’s a $250m market; around the world, organic’s food worth is an estimated $100 billion.
Despite this, sales of healthy, pesticide-free foodstuffs have tripled since the start of the decade. This includes the period during the rough Russian recession – and an import ban on agricultural goods from the EU.
Unsurprisingly, crops and vegetable products hold the largest market shares. Grains represent 23% of the market, with vegetables holding a 22% share.
Russia is also free from GMO crops with them either heavily restricted or outright banned.
As mentioned above, nearly all of these goods are imported. Just 15% of domestic need is covered by Russian-grown produce. The EU was Russia’s key agricultural supplier, but things have changed. Now countries like Israel, South Africa, and Egypt are the chief agricultural exporters to the Russian market.
Head of the Union of Organic Agriculture Sergey Korshunov emphasises the importance of developing things internally before Russia sets its eyes on exports.
“If the situation with exports is to be successful, we need to develop our own market and processing. I hope that when everything works – both laws and by-laws that are being developed – then in two years the domestic market should shoot up,” Mr Korshunov said.
The first thing on the agenda should be identifying and allocating land specifically for organic farming.
Russia needs to develop more organic acreages
Russia is home to vast tracts of farming and arable land, but only a tiny percentage is exclusively organic.
385,140 hectares is organic agricultural land in Russia. That’s just 0.2% of total nationwide farming acreages. Even so, this represents significant expansion since 2005. During the 10-year period, the land share has grown to that 385,140 figure from just 6,900 hectares. That’s an increase of over 5,400%.
This share is expected to grow further, with a process of land reclamation from unused plots in the pipeline.
Currently, not all organic farming land in Russia is under cultivation. This is partly due to the fact that it can take upwards of three years under the current, EU-standardised certification regime for farmers to actually become recognised as organic producers.
According to government sources, however, there is as much as 80-100 million hectares of reclaimable land. Such territory has been unused since the Soviet Union. Given Russia’s sheer size, it holds a surface area greater than Pluto, it only makes sense to start clawing back these plots.
But who will be farming them? Like many sectors in Russia, it’s a mix of the big and the small.
Agroholdings control the bulk of Russia’s organic agriculture companies
The average Russian organic farm is small-to-medium size; between roughly 50-100 hectares in size. Many private farmers are engaged in organic production, but they are overshadowed by the bigger companies with the cash to spend.
Four large holding companies essentially control organic production:
As it stands, just 60 organic producers hold international certification to US and EU standards. While this is voluntary, it marks how small the sector is.
But from the tiniest seeds come the mightiest harvests. When the Russian government lays down a goal, it rarely lets up until its aims are achieved. With the already tremendous government support for farmers nationwide, we may very well soon see huge governmental financial support for the organic sector.
Either way, the future of farming in Russia is distinctly green.
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