Exports to every taste
[b]Belarus among world leaders in food manufacture[/b]In many underdeveloped countries, people lack enough food to eat. Fortunately, Belarus has always been able to almost completely satisfy its own food needs. Now, modern technology is allowing our agrarian sector to expand its production, while global demand is enabling us to significantly raise our food exportsMikhail Kadyrov, First Deputy Director General of the National Academy of Sciences’ Scientific and Practical Centre for Arable Farming, believes that global tensions regarding adequate food supplies are caused by a sharp decrease in state budgetary financial assistance for agriculture. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) reports that, in 1980, such assistance accounted for 16 percent of all costs; by 2006, this had fallen to 3.8 percent.
In many underdeveloped countries, people lack enough food to eat. Fortunately, Belarus has always been able to almost completely satisfy its own food needs. Now, modern technology is allowing our agrarian sector to expand its production, while global demand is enabling us to significantly raise our food exportsMikhail Kadyrov, First Deputy Director General of the National Academy of Sciences’ Scientific and Practical Centre for Arable Farming, believes that global tensions regarding adequate food supplies are caused by a sharp decrease in state budgetary financial assistance for agriculture. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) reports that, in 1980, such assistance accounted for 16 percent of all costs; by 2006, this had fallen to 3.8 percent. A food crisis broke out in 32 countries over the next two years, with food prices rising rapidly.
Against this background, the Belarusian Government has been pursuing a supportive policy for decades — viewed as advantageous in all aspects. The Government provides systematic financial and organisational assistance to the agro-industrial sector and to villages. According to Belarus’ Prime Minister, Mikhail Myasnikovich, from 2005-2010, the National Rural Development Programme was the largest investment project, costing $53bln. It allowed the country to provide its population with high quality food products and to become a real player on the international food market, significantly improving living standards for rural residents.
Looking at statistical data, we can see that, over the first months of 2011, Belarus increased its agricultural production across all categories of farms by 5.6 percent. Meanwhile, the share of small private farms fell on last year and larger farms, on whom we rely, produced up to 7 percent more. Our country has been steadily growing 7-8mln tonnes of grain for several years, although just 1.5mln is needed to satisfy our own food needs. The remainder is used as fodder for cattle and poultry. Meanwhile, cow herds have increased by almost 4 percent and pigs by over 5 percent.
Over the first few months of 2011, the volume of greenhouse-raised vegetables in Belarus rose 1.4 times (on the similar period of 2010) and mushroom harvests rose 2.3 times. This has promoted a 19 percent growth in food sales in Belarus, with sales of meat and meat products rising 18.4 percent. Those of cheese are up 14.6 percent while sales of butter have risen by 6 percent. Various juices are enjoying sales of up to a third more. Domestically produced goods account for 83.6 percent, with almost all dairy and meat products being manufactured in Belarus.
Speaking of the scale of the food crisis, Tatiana Usacheva, the Head of the Agriculture and Food Ministry’s Department for Foreign Trade Policy and Foreign Investment, notes, “In 2010, our food branch exported $3.2bln of goods — up 1.4 times on last year. Although we delivered to 49 countries, 90 percent was sold to Russia, which is closer and most economically profitable for us. The profitability of several types of Belarusian dairy produce reached 60 percent on the Russian market. Meanwhile, more enterprises received certification (especially those in the west of Belarus) enabling them to export to the EU. Dairy products account for 70 percent of Belarusian food exports while meat comprises 20 percent of sales. We try to export products with higher value added: rennet cheeses, butter, and powdered and condensed milk rather than unprocessed milk.”
Grodno Region — one of Belarus’ most advanced from an agrarian point of view — is a good example in this respect, boasting fertile soil, a favourable climate and enough sun and moisture to grow high yield crops of food and forage. Its cattle breeding is also well developed and its specialists are unrivalled. In fact, Br550bln has been injected into the reconstruction of its meat and dairy industry enterprises over the last five years, with high revenues resulting.
Half of Grodno Region’s hard cheeses are exported, alongside 75 percent of its powdered milk and 70 percent of its butter. Belarusian consumers’ needs are also well met. According to the FAO, the country is now among the top five states for its export of condensed milk and among the top ten counties for its sales of cattle meat and eggs. Moreover, Belarus is an acknowledged leader in its export of rye flour and rye bread. This shows that our Republic is a serious player on the international food market.
Such an approach clearly yields dividends. Last year alone, powdered milk almost doubled in price on the international market while prices for butter and casein rose by 70 percent. Accordingly, Belarus has been able to offset some its significant expenditure on oil and natural gas, which have also sharply risen in price. At the same time, planting of buckwheat and other imported crops has expanded. As a result, in 2010, the positive balance of foreign trade in food stood at $1.3bln — up 2.2 times on 2009.
The Belarusian Government is now tasked with raising food export supplies to $7bln over the coming five years, keen to see its positive foreign trade balance reach $4bn. Evidently, the heads of agrarian processing enterprises must alter their approach; there is no alternative. Ideally, revenue from our milk and meat will offset oil and natural gas imports. According to forecasts, consumer demand for food is set to rise 1.3-1.4 times, so such a situation is possible.
As far as the social transformation of Belarusian villages is concerned, 1,481 agro-towns have been constructed to date, each boasting medical services, kindergartens, schools and post offices. This has raised the quality of life not only for town residents but for those living nearby.
The Belarusian Government recently elaborated its fourth state programme, aiming to develop its agrarian and industrial complex. This comprehensive document covers 18 branch and targeted sub-programmes, aiming to raise production across the board by 39-45 percent, allowing us to increase food exports by about 2.2-fold.
Dairy and meat remain a priority, with exports targeted to rise 2.8 times in this segment. To achieve this, 835 new commercial dairy farms need to be added to the existing 1,500, while 1,350 need to be modernised. In all, 90 percent of farms are to have contemporary milking rooms, bringing milk yields to over 10.5 tonnes per year. At the same time, our international marketing network is to be expanded this year, with a large national milk processing company set up. It will begin by processing a million tonnes of produce, while boasting a wide logistical network.
“Potential partners will be seriously considering work with this company,” believes the Agriculture and Food Minister, Mikhail Rusy. “Those who are keen to liaise on mutually beneficial conditions are welcome.”
Raising elite cattle and seeds is another aim, with Belarus intending to regain its title as Europe’s leading ‘potato’ country. A unique potato growing school is being developed, with Belarusian potato varieties becoming more popular.
There’s no doubt that the agrarian business is becoming very profitable for Belarus, as recognised by foreign investors, who are becoming more active in investing their money into the development of Belarusian villages.
By Vladimir Bibikov