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10 Feb, 2010 07:50

Producers look for support as agriculture looks to fill import gap

Import substitution in Russia's new food doctrine is seen as a way to stabilize the country's economy and gain a bigger share on international markets. Producers argue this is only possible with state help.

Think about what you eat. Food security and import substitution have become synonymous in the post-crisis strategy of Russia. The government wants to replace milk, poultry and meat imports within the five years with locally-produced products.

But businessmen say they lack financial and legal support to make that expectation a reality, says Marina Zhukovskaya, Head of Marketing for Agropromkomplektatsia.

“Import substitution of poultry and pork may happen in the nearest future. The situation with beef is worse and we won’t be able to regain our market share soon. Dealing with milk can be profitable only with subsidized loans. The state must support milk farms first of all by implementing new legislation.”

From farm to table – the recipe of success from the Danish Agriculture and Food Council is tighter cooperation between producers and processing companies, believes Mette Jasper Gammicchia from the Danish Agriculture and Food Council.

“We can use the knowledge from the primary production on the feed, and if we’re talking about the meat business, for instance, knowledge about research in better genetics, better feedings, better management at the farms. And until the product arrives in the supermarket, we can collect information during the entire production change.”

Russian producers say agriculture lacks management skills and are looking for foreign expertise. Meanwhile neighboring Belarus is reaping benefits of its Soviet heritage. Meat and milk from their collective farms account for a large amount of export to Russia. Director of AB-Servis, Aleksey Malyavkin says it is time for more support.

“The main problem is that our agriculture was destroyed in the 1990s and has been neglected ever since. It was only a while ago that the government launched state programs and imposed quotas on imports. Governments in other countries encourage producers especially when their goods go to export and even compensate for VAT. But here, they can only rely on themselves.”

Exporters as well as importers are unanimous in saying that even with joint efforts; years of work and reform are needed to revive the industry.