Salad without nitrate sauce

Organic farming could be way forward for Belarus
By Svetlana Samsonova

Despite its rich agricultural traditions, few farms in Belarus can yet be called ‘organic’ or ‘eco-friendly’ — according to the standards of international certification. Moreover, local buyers are yet to be convinced of the benefit of paying more for such produce. 

Western states have long since introduced organic farming, labelling produce to help buyers. State support has helped growers convert at affordable prices, helping farmers in Europe and the US overcome the very obstacles faced by Belarus today. Farmer Dmitry Krylov tells us, “We introduced organic farming after welcoming Swedish guests; they’d been growing eco-friendly food for three decades.” Sweden has always been at the forefront of ‘green living’ — from using renewable energy and recycling to the food sent into schools. One organic food company in Sweden has an annual turnover of around 6m Euros.

Belarus has a few eco-enterprises but they can only dream of such profits. “Those who can afford to pay more, prefer to eat food grown without nitrates,” adds Mr. Krylov. “However, they don’t actually know anything about the process, or what qualifies food for certification.” A couple of farms and online shops sell a limited range of organic products but Belarus lacks its own certification body so our farms receive the necessary documents from a Ukrainian company.

Organic food production is being discussed at state level, with the Myadel District being named ‘a zone of ecologically friendly agriculture’, supplying such products to Naroch spas and resorts. It creates a far better impression to be able to provide locally grown organic foods. 

Mr. Krylov tells us that the Minsk Regional Executive Committee is now proposing to include organic farming in its innovative production programme. He asserts that support is essential, since moving from intensive agricultural techniques will result in losses initially. Even if harvest volumes are maintained, the cost of new equipment is prohibitive for many. Savings can be made from no longer using nitrates and fertilisers but manual work is often required, alongside more natural ways of protecting plants from insects. Losses should eventually be balanced out by higher prices but, of course, the market dictates price. Mr. Krylov notes that a litre of goat’s milk sells for the equivalent of about US$1 in Belarus (gross) while organic milk would certainly cost more.

Belarus is unique in most agricultural products being grown by individual villagers or farmers. Last year, around 70 percent of Belarusian potatoes and over 80 percent of all vegetables were grown in this way, with no monitoring of ‘organic methods’. Olga Shchiglinskaya, who specialises in sustainable productive systems, tells us, “It’s necessary to distribute information across Belarus, detailing how to grow crops safely for human consumption and how to preserve the environment.” Those unable to grow their own fruit and vegetables need access to guaranteed organic products: a guarantee which can be provided by the state and by farmers. “Why shouldn’t organic agriculture become a national trend for Belarus — being situated at the centre of Europe, with good agrarian traditions?” Ms. Shchiglinskaya muses. She believes that elderly people, children and those suffering from chronic illness would benefit most profoundly. 

‘Eco-labelled’ foods are fashionable, despite their organic nature being questionable at present; it’s no wonder that many potential customers doubt whether such produce is worth paying more for. Well-implemented legislation is the only solution.
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