President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.
We have two important items on our agenda today: our current demographic policy objectives and the related issue of rural development – raising living standards and fostering economic development in rural areas.
As you know, I outlined the main goals of our demographic policy a year ago in my Address to the Federal Assembly, and I spoke then of creating conditions to encourage women to give birth, of measures to bring down the high death rate, and of developing a more competent system for managing migration flows. We have for the most part carried out the work we set for 2006. By that, I mean that the necessary laws have been passed, financing provisions have been made, and real coordination between the work of the federal and regional authorities is now in place. This does not mean that we have resolved all our problems, and indeed, resolving the demographic issue still requires a lot of work, but the organisational and financial issues have been settled.
Now, starting from this year, we have begun the practical implementation of the measures set out in the Address. I want to stress that this is not a closed list and new objectives could and should be added to it, and I will speak in more detail on this point today. I hope that you too will share your views on this matter.
As we focus on implementing the priority measures for improving the demographic situation, we also need to start thinking about the long-term outlook. As you know, the experts say that when it comes to demographics, planning needs to be not for the next year or two, but for the next three generations. In other words, what is required is strategic planning. This is the only way to not just turn around the negative trends we see today, but to stabilise the situation and eventually bring about a gradual increase in our country’s population. It is precisely for this reason that the instruction was given to draft a systematised and carefully calculated demographic policy concept. This document is not being drawn up for the authorities, or not just for the authorities, anyway, but is intended above all for the citizens of Russia. National demographic policy should be the product of public demand, should be clear and comprehensible to the public and based on the active involvement of our citizens themselves.
The state’s efforts alone, no matter how strong and wealthy the state is, cannot suffice to change the situation. A great amount depends on people’s attitudes to their own health.
I have just come from a meeting with women representing public organisations, women who work at the practical level on demographic and child education issues and are directly involved in raising a large number of children. They also raised this same issue of the importance of educating people to take the right attitude to their own health, to the health of their children and their parents, and to the institution and values of the family. Political parties, civil society organisations and the media can all play a big part in this work, of course.
Coming to the specific tasks at hand, as I have already said, all of the national projects will have a direct impact on the demographic situation. Today we need to talk about what we can do to give these projects an even clearer focus on our demographic development goals, how to make these goals part of our programmes in the areas of healthcare, education and the provision of affordable housing to young families.
What we want to achieve through this common work is for Russian families to live comfortably, for people to have decent employment and housing, good quality healthcare services and access to pre-school education for their children.
It is extremely important that urban development projects make provisions for simple but essential things like kindergartens, children’s play areas, and sports facilities, and that housing designs provide for basic conveniences such as ramps for prams. Incidentally, at my meeting with the representatives of women’s organisations earlier, we also discussed this matter of how housing designs give practically no consideration to the interests of large families. The women I met with said that there simply are not any housing design projects here at the moment geared to the needs of large families.
I would like to say a few words separately about the problems related to the high death rate. As you know, the death rate continues to exceed the birth rate. The country is losing more than 700,000 people on average every year. The high death rate among working-age people remains a serious problem. Men account for 80 percent of the deaths in this group. The principle causes of this situation are well-known and include cardio-vascular diseases and so-called non-natural factors such as smoking and alcohol abuse.
Other problems that present a threat to people’s safety also remain. These problems include the safety situation on the streets, on the roads, and in workplaces. This list illustrates that the high death rate is not just a medical problem but also a social issue. Of course, we do need to improve our healthcare system, including the preventive medicine system, but reducing the risk factors in general will also play a huge part in increasing life expectancy in our country, and this is the concern of each individual just as it is of the local authorities, employers and society in general.
I would also like to note the primordial role played by the regions in resolving the whole range of demographic issues we face. A number of regions have already drawn up their own strategic demographic policy programmes. The other regions still have this task before them. These programmes should not only take into account the specific local situation and traditions, but also, above all, national policies in this area.
Today, on the eve of International Women’s Day, I would like to stress once again the immense importance of motherhood and the huge responsibility that women have for raising children.
I would like to take this occasion to offer my most sincere congratulations to all Russia’s women on this upcoming holiday and wish them all health and prosperity.
Now I would like to say a few words about the second item on our agenda today.
As you know, the Federal Law on Agriculture Development was adopted last December. The law’s goal is to target state support measures on developing the agri-business sector and on developing the rural areas in general. This law will provide the basis for drafting a state agriculture development programme, which will consolidate our work on comprehensive rural development. [Agriculture Minister] Alexei Gordeyev will give more detail on the programme’s preparation later.
I would like to say a few words briefly on the following points.
First, this programme should not focus exclusively on agricultural production. It is important to develop modern policies for organising rural life in general. We need to maintain the rural way of life, but in a new and modern form, giving it the infrastructure, roads and transport it needs and ensuring that rural areas are connected to the gas network. Implementation of the national projects in the rural areas should contribute to reaching all of these objectives. We also need to intensify as much as possible work to stimulate job creation in the rural areas and, given the development of new technology making agriculture less labour-intensive, we need to focus particularly on creating jobs not just in agriculture but in other sectors too.
Second, we need to support small-scale farming, for it can make a big contribution to overall agricultural production. Sometimes small farms can be more profitable and productive than large agri-businesses. Furthermore, these small-scale agricultural ventures make a significant social contribution by creating employment in rural areas. It is in the state’s interest and it is the state’s duty to create the conditions that will enable more and more solid ventures to develop in agriculture and in the rural areas in general. But many of the problems in this area are being resolved very slowly. I will not go now into the problem of what people are supposed to do with the abstract stakes that they hold [stakes entitling them to a share of land in former collective farms] and how to turn them into actual concrete assets that they can use, but this is a problem that has still not been resolved at administrative level.
Another issue is that of ensuring sales markets for Russia’s agricultural produce. Producers at all levels should be assured of having stable and guaranteed markets. In this area we need to pay particular attention to developing the infrastructure for primary processing of livestock industry products.
I would also like to hear today about the state of progress with the law on markets and on agricultural cooperative development in general.
I propose that we begin our work now and I give the floor to [First Deputy Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev.