Svetlana Maksimova: People know what to do; they just need our help

The deputy, who knows firsthand about nuances of farmery, spoke about the experience which Russian farmers adopt from Belarusians
What’s the way forward?

We need to create more cooperative societies. I took my farmers to Finland to show them how local cooperations operate there and found a good example in ‘Valio’, whose butter, milk and sour cream is famous across Russia.

Agricultural manufacturers should participate directly in supplying state orders, rather than sales occurring through chain suppliers. We, of course, don’t grow oranges, but we produce meat, milk, potatoes and vegetables. We can deliver directly to shops, as well as to kindergartens, schools, hospitals and military units. If manufacturers know that their produce is being directed appropriately (and not just dumped or fed to livestock) they’ll be encouraged. Prices will fall if we avoid ­using intermediaries.

How can regional co-operatives ensure that they’re wor­king to full capacity?

Pilot projects which later could be extended in regions, considering their specificity. It is clear that in the south they have different conditions, then for example in Yakutia and in Central Russia.

This problem has been solved in Belarus.

When I come to Belarus, my heart fills with joy. There aren’t any neglected fields. I once argued with Belarusian colleagues that I’d find a piece of uncultivated land if I kept searching, but I never did!

Last spring, I accompanied a delegation from Tver Region to Belarus. We visited several large and small manufacturers, examining the development of rural tourism. The trip made a great impression on our farmers, especially the ‘culture of production’. Afterwards, they began revamping their manufacturing.

We attended joint fairs, as are held at the weekends, showing agricultural produce, as well as that from industrial enterprises, footwear manufacturers and tailors. Our friends from Belarus showed us a great deal. Belarus has emulated us in refusing to allow certain products to enter the market, to avoid competition. Of course, we need to attend fairs not only in Russia, but also in Belarus. I have to say that it’s difficult to compete with local Belarusian sausages, as they are so meaty. Products with unnatural ingredients simply don’t sell here.

Are Belarusian potatoes welcome in Russia?

When I was a farmer, I cultivated them in large amounts and found them very tasty. In our Union, we have a Belarusian from Orsha who brought seeds from there.

The state has set aside a billion Roubles to subsidise agrarians?

It’s not actually as much as you might think. Farmers’ expectations for state support of projects unconnected with the land have not been met, although some grants are available. The state gives 70 million Roubles for certain projects, but it’s a drop in the ocean, and sums don’t always reach the addressee in full. Much depends on regional authorities, and problems can arise. As an agrarian and legislator, I can see the aid needed by villagers, and the legislation required.

Tell us more…

Farmers and cooperative societies cannot develop without plots of land. The former need land for building logistical centres while the second need to create vehicle-tractor stations. Not every farm can afford to buy machinery. In Russia, in order to receive a plot, you need to win an auction. The state is obliged to help you raise a loan, at the very least.

There are lots of abandoned fields and villages. Are there those wishing to restore them?

People often come to me. One even gathered a team of 22 people, including doctors, livestock specialists, tractor dri­vers, mechanical engineers, and teachers. He asked me to find a suitable village. The issue is now before the regional admi­nistration. I found a site, and then sent them to the head of the regional administration.

I remember, several years ago, that someone engaged in industrial equipment, from Moscow, approached me about entering the farming life. I looked at him and tried to work out what it was that he was chasing. In the end, I suggested rabbit breeding. Today, he has 6,000 rabbits, selling the meat at fairs, and to chain shops. Of course, it’s known to be a ‘healthy’ meat.

When entrepreneurial people join a village, you tend to see it revive and develop. More children are born, and roads and infrastructure are built. Farming is more than a business; it’s a way of life. Remember how strong (and large) Russian peasant families were.

Which projects have you helped recently?

A group from Kostroma Region asked us to help launch pig breeding and meat processing, to make a range of pork pro­ducts. They applied for a loan under certain terms, but received a loan on quite different terms, as we wanted to encourage them in what looked like a great venture. 

Does this happen often?

Very often; this is why the work of farmers’ unions and associations is important. We can more easily help members of such groups. Unions in the West are a powerful force, with 90 percent of farmers taking membership.


Legislation should reflect real life

During our conversation, the Chairman of the Council of the Association of Rural and Farm Enterprises and Agricultural Cooperatives of Russia, Vyacheslav Telegin, dropped in to see the deputy Mr. Telegin, what brings you here today?

Ms. Maksimova is our deputy, putting forward legislative initiatives and solving general problems. She currently heads the agrarian issues working group of the Committee of the State Duma, working to improve laws affecting agriculture. We didn’t like a number of suggestions being put forward, so we offered ours. For example, the present rules on keeping cows are unacceptable, as they limit a farmers’ herd to just a hundred cattle. What if you have six hundred cows? Do you kill the rest?

Two thirds of requirements and norms are now outdated, and amendments aren’t always ideal. This year, it was decided to introduce licensing for manure, applying chemical manufacture rules to farming. We want to apply to the Ministry of Agriculture for similar statutory acts to be withdrawn.

Legislation should reflect real life needs. Before considering a bill, provisions need to be coordinated with regions, with specialised associations and with expert professionals. Without doing this, nothing should be submitted for consideration.

Which laws need correction?

As practitioners, we all have slightly different needs, but those relating to organic agriculture, state support of co-operation, and support for small and medium-sized businesses are most relevant. We can’t be competitive without financial help and favourable conditions. We won’t survive. Russia’s joining of the World Trade Organization has made this especially crucial. We also need to offer preferential tax terms to start-up businesses, for the first five years.

Farming in Russia revolves around small-sized businesses, yet many laws are aimed at large enterprises. Those develo­ping laws aren’t thinking about ‘babies’. It’s a strategic error.

Do you liaise with Belarusians? Which aspects appeal for adoption?

Preferential lending is topical for us. In Belarus, farmer privileges are allocated in proportion to land held. We’ve been asking for something similar for a long time: to receive preferential interest rates, as Belarusians have. Quotas are another area. Think of a large sow and a piglet approaching a feeding trough; who will manage to eat more? The analogy is obvious.

By Natalia Dolgushina
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