Organic food for Christmas from Russia

Ambassador's view
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
© Jorge Adorno
In his state of the nation speech on December 3 in the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin said, “We can not only feed ourselves, Russia can become an important global supplier of healthy, organic and high-quality food, especially since the global demand for such products is showing a steady growth.”

According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM), in 2000-2014 global organic food output grew almost five times from $18bn to $100 billion, year-on-year growth amounted to 10 to 12 per cent; if this trend remains by 2020 the market will reach $200-250 billion. At the same time, it is noteworthy that, according to the US Department of Agriculture, the share of organic food production in the US amounts to less than three per cent of total agricultural output, in various countries of the EU it totals one to seven per cent.

Today many foods have emerged on the Russian market labeled ‘bio’, ‘eco’ and ‘organic’.

Low-impact sustainable agriculture in Russia began in 1989 when the first national Alternative Agriculture program was launched. In 1994 Russia began exports of certified organic buckwheat to Europe. Today the formation of Russia’s market for organic and ecologically safe food is in full swing. A number of regions are actively taking up this type of production. Today Russia provides organic buckwheat and wild berries to Europe and the US.

Experts suggest Russia’s clean environment and huge land resources will facilitate a faster development than in the West of an organic food market in the country. Such production uses no genetic engineering (GMO), hormones, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers or pesticides, no food additives. According to IFOAM, the size of Russia’s organic food market is about $80-100 million, or 0.2 percent of all Russian-produced food. Average annual growth is expected at 22-25 percent.

Experts assess Russia’s capability to comply with international standards and compete in the global eco-food market as quite high. This is so due to the following reasons:

• Specific Russian crops are rarely grown in the West or not grown at all; certain traditional crops – wild berries, mushrooms, cedar nuts, medicinal plants – have no parallels elsewhere.

• Russia’s food production regulations, including a ban on the use of GMOs, are more rigorous than those in the West. The amount of mineral fertilizers and pesticides used in Russia is tens of times less than in many Western countries, for instance, 11 times less than in the US, 23 times less than in China.

• Huge land resources: eco-safe systems can be introduced in vast areas. The larger the territory, the more diverse is the native flora and fauna and the more resilient to man-made interference is the bio-community.

Food certification bodies have been established in Russia; national organic farming regulations, which take full account of international requirements, have been put in place and are being constantly improved. In 2004 Eco-control started – a national organic farming and sustainable land use certification body. In March 2013 a national Union for Organic Agriculture started its work to support and develop eco-food production. Ecologically safe fruit and vegetables and dairy are the fastest-growing segments of the organic industry in Russia. A sector of country food, produce that fully satisfies ‘bio’, ‘eco’ and ‘organic’ standards, is emerging on the Russian market.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.