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MOSCOW, September 22. /TASS/. Russian analysts are divided over whether 100-percent independence from food export is a reasonable benchmark. Stepping up food production inside the country is an important task, no denying that, but it is utterly unnecessary to seek complete self-sufficiency in this or that foodstuff, experts say about the draft amendments to Russia’s food security doctrine the Ministry of Agriculture has just proposed for public scrutiny.
The Agriculture Ministry suggests gauging food security as the ratio of domestic production to domestic consumption. The proposed amendments mention specific amounts of certain products Russia should be producing on its own by 2020. The minimum levels of self-sufficiency in certain foods are to go up in contrast to the current ones: for sugar and sunflower oil, from 80% to 90%, and for fish, from 80% to 85%. The minimum levels for vegetables and gourds are to be set at 90%, and for vegetables and fruit, at 70%.
President Vladimir Putin issued instructions to speed up progress towards achieving food security in August 2014, shortly after the introduction of the embargo on the import of some foods from the European Union and the United States.
"Far from everybody understands food security as food independence," the chief research fellow at the Agri-Industrial Policies Center of the presidential academy RANEPA, Vasily Uzun, has told TASS. "International organizations define it as the availability of foods to each individual. If customers can afford to buy food, then there is food security, if not, there is none."
The main idea of proposed amendments is Russia should be able to meet all of its needs. "We have conducted some research to find out that from the standpoint of food independence Russia is high on the world list. It makes no sense for raising the degree of independence still further. We should take a look at what products should be produced inside the country, and what items should be grown in still greater amounts and exported to other countries. The items that are too costly to produce inside the country should be purchased on the world market. This is more reasonable in terms of food security understood as availability, because this is what people really care about. For producers it is far more important to restrict import so that they can enjoy a greater share of the market. Not because they grow produce at lower costs, but because the government protects them."
Uzun pointed to the certain political role of food trade. "Those countries which trade in food, export a lot and import much enjoy loyal treatment. Everybody is reluctant to lose the provider and the buyer. The United States exports $100 billion worth of food, but it imports about the same amount. That gives the country a firmer foothold in the world. We should be moving along the same lines."
Protecting the domestic market to a degree where there should be only domestically grown foods on sale will make no sense, Uzun said.
"Technologically bananas can be grown in Russia. But what for? They will be too costly," he said.
"A level of 80% is a very good one, so raising it further to 90% only to say that there will be food security only after that is very wrong," a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Elmira Krylatykh, told TASS. "It is not percentage parameters that really matter. We have problems with milk, which can be resolved no earlier than in seven to eight years’ time. There are problems with beef. Vegetables and fruit are no problem. Building up vegetable production will be easy. It is incorrect to say that it will be a great achievement."
There cannot be the necessary degree of stable food security in the context of a low level of independence, but food security is not confined to the share of domestically grown products in the overall domestic consumption, Krylatykh said. It is a far more complex notion.
"Besides, even if domestic production goes up to 90%, it does not mean yet that independence has been achieved. We are far more dependent not on the import of foods, but on the import of means of production and even genetic material."
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