President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I am continuing my inspection tour of the regions following the summer’s recent events, because, unfortunately, my experience has shown me that if you stop keeping personal control of the situation the bureaucratic machine eventually stops.
You will tell me yourselves about the situation here, the difficulties you face, what the state authorities have done, or can do for you, and what you can sort out yourselves.
We have a very concrete agenda today. Just a few days ago we discussed the situation on the foodstuffs market at a meeting of the State Council Presidium. Of course, our main task now is to minimise the agriculture sector’s losses and ensure stable work and normal preparations for the coming year.
We have already taken urgent support measures. The Governor told me that here, in Voronezh Region, of the 35 billion rubles [around $1.14 billion] allocated by the federal budget, one billion has arrived. The regions will have to provide additional assistance to everyone affected – the agricultural producers, and of course also owners of private garden plots and homes destroyed in the fires. This is a separate and very difficult matter.
Of course, as you all know, it is also absolutely essential to sow the winter and spring crops on time. This is vital for the sector’s successful results, and essential for the country as a whole and the overall situation with food prices.
Here in Voronezh today, I visited a flour mill, a bread factory, and a food shop, where I took a look at the price situation. Overall, the situation is under control and prices for the basic foodstuffs have changed very little. This is important, because this is what worries ordinary people most of all.
There are some products that either practically disappeared altogether as a result of speculative action, or saw their cost go up substantially. Above all, this concerns buckwheat, which everyone has been talking about. I hope the [Agriculture] Ministry will keep close watch on this situation which is absolutely clear, and that all the necessary measures, including measures that are the law enforcement agencies’ responsibility, will be taken as the new deliveries come in now.
I discussed with the Governor today the results of advancing with the [Agriculture] Priority National Project. The achievements are not bad, as I think you would agree. This project has produced visible outcome. The main thing now is to keep building on the results achieved over the last five years, which saw our agriculture sector develop a lot better than it had been over the previous 15 years. In this difficult year we need to create the reserves for our work in the future.
Mr Gordeyev [Governor of Voronezh Region Alexei Gordeyev], you will no doubt have a few words to say, given that this has turned out to be practically a regional meeting. There is of course another issue that we discussed together.
We discussed the situation in the research sector. This is also a separate subject, not a simple one. There are some very original examples of how research programmes are being carried out here. I will not name them, but if Mr Gordeyev tells us about them I think this would be useful. I am sure that you have some examples to share.
At the Council on Priority National Projects’ meeting in July, replying to a comment by Ms Skrynnik [Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik], I said that the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences should develop applied research and work on making our agricultural research more competitive, specifically applied research.
This is not an easy task, but it is high time to really get down to work and shake off the torpor of these last years. Our big agricultural sector research institutes and experimental centres should work in the interests of our agribusiness sector, and not in other interests, and they should work, what’s more, in coordination with the sector’s unions and associations, which are the main customers for the results of their research.
I want the Government to continue working on building up the activities of our Academy of Agricultural Sciences and improving coordination with the main consumers of its research results, and present me with proposals in this area, otherwise we will continue to see the sorry results of our work visible in the fields, and reflected in our harvest results and other figures. You know what I am talking about. We need new breeding and selection developments.
One other aspect that deserves separate mention is land improvement. The old land improvement system got dismantled and has all but disappeared. We saw fields where land improvement has been carried out and fields where nothing has been done, and this difference in the yields they produce is enormous. This is especially noticeable in a difficult year such as this one.
We therefore must conduct a thorough review of agricultural land and reflect on how to revive the land improvement system. In Saratov I was told that there used to be a large water pipeline, but it got dug up and sold off in sections. Landowners see the pipe as being part of their own property, but this pipe system was originally built on the public funds, and it was big money too, because the Soviet Union, by virtue of its particular circumstances, was able to put a lot of investment into such projects.
Many projects were not implemented very effectively, perhaps, and sometimes things were done really quite foolishly, but the fact remains that the money and the possibilities were there. But now this irrigation pipe has been cut into sections and sold off. This is a crime. If the governor knows about this, I think it is time to turn to the prosecutors and initiate criminal cases.
But the issue is not this one particular case. The issue is the situation in general, the need to develop land improvement. We should take action here, taking into account this summer’s events. The Government has drafted proposals on how to launch this work, based on our financial possibilities and the experience this year has brought us. If the drought continues we simply will not survive unless we start carrying out this work. So, let’s get down to action.
* * *
The moment we start introducing various forms of embargo and state regulation, we help someone somewhere. I think it is possible to make partial use of administrative measures, for example, regulating the prices for fuels and lubricants, say, and we will do this simply because there is no choice. But if we start taking these kinds of measures everywhere, we would end up pushing our agriculture in completely the wrong direction. You know yourselves where this road would ultimately lead.
As for the grain embargo, this is a temporary measure that we have been forced to take. As soon as we get a clear picture of this year’s harvest we will lift this embargo, you can be sure of this.
* * *
We realise the livestock sector’s importance today, and this is why the national project made livestock farming one of its key links, as you know. We have achieved some decent results in this sector. Much has been said about our export potential in plant crops, wheat and other grain crops, but we realise that we will have a normal agriculture sector only if we have a full closed cycle in the sector, with the livestock sector consuming a substantial part of what the plant crop producers produce. Otherwise we would end up working only for the export market, and this would give us a skewed agriculture sector. We therefore need to work on all of these different areas.
* * *
I have a proposal. I will continue my visits to the regions to look into agriculture issues in connection with the events that have taken place. I am going to keep this sector under presidential supervision for now. And so, at one of the future meetings, perhaps at the last meeting, I propose that you also invite the heads of all the banks working with the agriculture sector to attend. This includes Russian Agricultural Bank, Sberbank, and perhaps other banks involved with the sector. The heads of the main insurance companies should also be present, and the heads of our economic agencies, because some issues will be decided taking into account the results of our discussions with agriculture market participants and the proposals that have come out of these trips.
So, this is agreed then. I wish you success in this difficult year. We will work together and address all of the problems together. Until our next meeting.