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9 Jul, 2009 19:17

Russia ready to do the hard yards on G8 food promise

The Food Safety Programme was set up by the G8 last year as a response to price rises, which lead to riots across the world. Russia is contributing food, but says the emphasis could now switch to investment in farming.

Agriculture is the only sector of the Russian economy which hasn’t suffered from the economic crisis, but on the contrary enjoyed growth this year. It’s harvest time in the Southern Krasnodar region of Russia. Sergey Bardakov, a combine operator, is working flat out to bring in 560 hectares of wheat.

“We do the harvesting and the processing and we also have our own distribution. We compete with each other because we get bonuses at the end of the harvest.”

Last year Russia had a record grain harvest of more than 100 million tones. No records this year, but there’s still plenty for export, according to Aleksandr Petrikov, Deputy Agriculture Minister.

“Russia will pursue its policies of state presence on the grain market both inside and outside Russia to increase its role as an exporter.”

The G8 has committed $15 billion for agricultural development in poor countries over the next three years as part of a food security programme.

The US, the world’s largest food aid donor, along with Japan, has pledged to donate $3-4 billion. Russia says it will also contribute, according to Ivan Obolontsev, Head of the Russian Agrarian Union.

“We are ready to supply grain and other products of higher value. The main question is whether the global community will indeed finance the supplies. The problem of 1 billion hungry people is being discussed from year to year, but the number of starving remains high. Russia’s contribution will account for millions of dollars.”

The US-led initiative is to shift from food aid to long-term investments in farming in poor countries so that they can produce their own food. It’s proposed to pool the money in a global agriculture and food security trust fund managed by the World Bank.

But the EU is sceptical, saying it could create extra red-tape and the funds would not be disbursed quickly. Others fear that the long-term strategy could hurt those who are in need of immediate help.