Posted on 17/03/05 in Food Systems & Animal Rights
Organic (bio, eco) agriculture is the most sustainable type of agriculture that helps to save nature, support soil fertility and to provide people with the most healthy and fresh food. It is of no doubt of world wide importance today. Western Europe was the first region that understood it. Organic agriculture is practiced in almost all countries of the world, and its share of agricultural land and farms is growing.
The total organically managed area is more than 24 million hectares worldwide. In addition, according to various certification bodies, the area of “wild harvested plants” is at least a further 10.7 million hectares. The market for organic products is growing and it is valued at 23 billion USD (2002). The major markets are Europe and North America.
Made in Russia
Russia started to export organic products from Europe about 10 years ago. To start, it was only mushrooms, barriers and nuts from Siberia and the Far East that were certified by European bodies. Today more and more farms from western part of Russia convert themselves into organic producers. Organic farming in Russia is only at the beginning. Officially there are only 5,276 organic hectares (it is 45 times less then in Ukraine, 4 times less then in Belgium but similar to Japan) that is only 0.003% of Russian agricultural area when in European countries it is 2-3% in average. How do other Russian agricultural area represent themselves? Actually most of Russian farms are similar to organic farms. About 70% of farms have never used chemical pesticides; mineral fertilizers are used less then 8 kg per ha when in Europe it is 320 kg per ha in average.
It is very common for Russian people to grow their own vegetables, fruits and to practice animal husbandry in rural areas. Most people who live in block houses have “dacha” (country house with surrounding land which is used as additional house) or just farm. People go there from spring till autumn to grow their potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, apples, strawberries, currant, watermelons, melons, and grapes. In some Russian regions families use only their own harvest for food. Many people in the country are still eating food produced themselves. This explains why it is thought that Russia will not need any regulations for organic agriculture for a long time. Meanwhile today more and more people from big cities who buy products in shops and especially in markets worry about quality of products that are often not wholly satisfactory.
There are a lot of enthusiastic people who wish to receive an organic producers certification so that they can sell in Russia and export to Europe. Two foreign companies -Demeter and IMO (Swiss company) already certify Russian organic products in order to sell them in Europe. This certification is too expensive for most Russian farms. A major problem is that Russia currently does not have official regulations for organic agriculture but they are in process. To solve this issue, regulations and norms must be developed for the affordable certification of Russian farms which would also satisfy the requirements of foreign countries. This would allow continued exports of products while providing an affordable local certifi cation rather than depending on expensive foreign certifications.
Russia does have several advantages over her competitors in the organic world market. Most specialists agree that Russia’s clean soils provide great potentials for organic agriculture. There is no 2-3 year wait for chemical substances to be purged from the land such as there is in Western Europe.
Another advantage is cheap labor. In some regions people are ready to work on farms for just 1.5 Euro per day. Large areas of arable lands provide local residents with food as well as the exportation of significant quantities of relevant products to foreign countries.
Yet another advantage is that Russia produces some products which Europe does not grow or grows in little amount, such as buckwheat, millet, black current, wild growing cultures.
One major snag of the development of organic agriculture is a lack of investments. Although most of Russian crops are clean from any chemical substances it is not enough to sell them as organic. Most farms do not have essential depot for organic fertilizers and necessary agricultural equipment. Investors are needed to purchase this equipment and receive certifications.
The second problem is that many people, even farmers, do not understand the requirements of organic agriculture or even the defi nition. The farmers who do have a clear understanding of organic farming are not sure that they will be able to find buyers who will pay extra money for organic products.
In spite of all problems organic agriculture is already developing in Russia. Analysts forecast that about 1-2 years will be needed before significant organic purchases are realised, beginning in the larger cities, and about 3-5 years will be needed in outlying areas.
Organic Food Stores
At present Russians can buy few certified organic products (that were imported from Europe) in some big networks of supermarkets in Moscow. In spring 2004 the first organic shop “Orange Pumpkin” was opened in the capital of Russia. Most of all its organic products are imported from Western Europe (the Netherlands, France, Germany etc.). Prices are at least 3 times higher then for traditional food. At the beginning most customers were foreigners that currently live in Russia but adapted to eat organic food in their native countries but currently there are more and more Russian customers. Two other organic shops in Moscow (Grunwald) are going to sell partly organic products from Europe and partly products (not just food) that satisfy organic norms but have no certifi cations and are mainly homemade.
Traditionally Russia has a solid academic background of agriculture. Now more and more researches are devoted to organic agriculture and especially organic methods to increase soil fertility. At the end of October 2003 the first international conference “Ecological agriculture: foreign experience and new trends for Russia” was held in Moscow. Participants from Russia and foreign countries marked that interest of Russian people to organic agriculture is getting bigger. This interest was confirmed by buyers” wishes to purchase high quality products.
Russian agriculture had a lot of economic problems last years. Because of the lack of financing, most farmers did not use any chemical pesticides for many years. Today we have the unique opportunity to transfer these problems into advantages and to start developing organic agriculture on these lands. Interest in organic food has started growing. This can be confi rmed by increase of consumers’ wishes to buy natural high quality products. With proper investment and education Russia could immerge as a world leader in production, usage, and exportation of organic products.