A food revolution
On the domestic front, Putin delivered a business and reform-orientated speech. He conceded that an “army of inspectors” (a post-Soviet hangover) interferes with business in Russia and promised change. He also highlighted Russia’s improving demographic situation. “More people are now having second and third children. This means they believe in the future of Russia,” he said. Given the shocking state of the Russian birth-rate in the 1990’s, this recovery is a very big deal. Government policy has been successful in that area and Putin extended current financial and social incentives for a further two years.
However, for this writer, the most notable element of Putin’s speech was when he turned his attention to agriculture. Readers who have flown over Russia will have noticed the almost complete absence of intensive farming when compared with Europe or North America. The only real exception here is the southern Krasnodar region which benefits from a very benign climate. There is little doubt that if Russian got its act together in this regard, it could probably feed the whole planet.
Problems in Russian agriculture have festered throughout history. Most infamously, former Soviet ruler Nikita Khrushchev, born to a farming family, fancied himself as something of an agricultural expert, but his disastrous ‘reforms’, allied to a terrible drought, almost led to a famine as recently as 1963. The ‘Virgin Lands’ campaign of the 1950’s was also spectacularly unsuccessful.
In the 21st century, Russian food production has improved. Now, Putin is proposing a major focus on the area. “By 2020, Russia must provide itself with all food,” he implored. "We need to cultivate the millions of acres now idle.” The President suggested confiscating unused farmland and its sale to new owners willing to till it.
An organic dawn
As the Kremlin has rejected the idea of GMO food production, now a mainstay of American agriculture, Russia could become the world’s principal supplier of high-quality organic food. Meaning there is potential to dominate the “high-end” market in both the West and in other wealthy countries - like China and the Middle Eastern states.
"We are not only able to feed ourselves taking into account our lands, water resources – Russia is able to become the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food which the Western producers have long lost, especially given the fact that demand for such products in the world market is steadily growing," said Putin. Of course, a major problem here is insufficient labor. However, with some European and Asian countries creaking economically, it mightn’t be so difficult to attract agriculture workers.
The Virgin Lands Program in the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev