Oleg Sirota: ‘We try to secure targeted aid, somebody calls it ‘food coupons’’
First Vice Chairman of the Russian Civic Chamber’s Commission for the Development of the Agro-Industrial Complex and Rural Territories Oleg Sirota offers to introduce targeted food aid for low-income families. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, the expert talked about other benefits that are offered in the sector, for instance, to support bread producers with preferential loans. The interlocutor of the newspaper is one of the speakers of Community forum the chamber held in Saransk last week. Social Lifts: Creation of Opportunities for Self-Fulfilment became the main topic of the meeting.
“A huge number of petitions because of the drought”
Mr Sirota, the drought and its consequences are the most concerning topic for the countrymen today. Are you receiving petitions from farmers in this respect? What help are agriculturists asking for?
Indeed, this year has turned out to be tough, and we are receiving a huge number of petitions because of the drought. Not all seeds were insured, it is our historical pain, a lasting problem. And not everybody can receive compensation. However, agriculturists are mostly complaining about the sudden rise in the price of fertilisers. It is a colossal problem because it is impossible to run an agricultural business. We repeatedly drew the attention of the federal authorities to the necessity of restraining wholesale prices for agriculturists. With the support of Russian Vice Premier Viktoria Abramchenko, it became possible to freeze the prices until 31 October. Hopefully, this will help agricultural labourers to do autumn works.
Back to the drought. If countrymen didn’t insure the harvest, can they hope for any additional support measures?
This year, the Russian government has allocated about a billion rubles to compensate for losses from the harvest due to anomalous weather conditions. It is quite a lot of money.
But it isn’t for the whole country. For instance, about 15 billion rubles are annually spent on the planting in Tatarstan.
No, but it is necessary to consider that the harvest didn’t fail everywhere, while some seeds were insured. Also, we are talking about additional compensations that weren’t considered from the beginning at all. So the additional support measures will help to overcome this tough moment. To get these payouts, farmers should go to the regional Ministry of Agriculture. Candidates must show what harvest failed, then a commission decides how much money should be paid. Here it is necessary to consider the environment of every region. Our commission in the Russian Civic Chamber monitors how the money is paid in the regions, and we are ready to help to sort tough situations out.
Candidates must show what harvest failed, then a commission decides how much money should be paid. Here it is necessary to consider the environment of every region
Due to the drought in the Volga region, forecasts for the rise in bread prices have recently been heard. Is its price expected to rise this autumn?
Now there is general inflationary pressure on the growth dynamics of prices for bread and other foods. You see yourself that petrol, fertilisers have become expensive, hence the rise in prices for foodstuffs. Due to the growth in inflation, products will go up in price in the country, unfortunately, but within some limits. Both public organisations and power agencies monitor prices for bread and foodstuffs. Here it is important to avoid an imbalance so that farmers can also sell products. Last year, a lot of buyers didn’t get to Krasnodar because of the pandemic, and farmers simply buried their harvest.
“Climatic surprises don’t allow the prices to decrease. In 2021, wheat will cost more than 14,000 rubles per tonne,” experts of a big federal bank made such a forecast at Field Day 2021 Russian exhibition. Do you agree with this estimate?
14,000 rubles per tonne is a good digit, but it is far from the peak of the purchase price in the Russian grain market. Compared to last year, in some regions, it reached 18,000 rubles per tonne of wheat. But at this level, the farmers who managed to reap a good harvest of grains will get good profitability. This means that next year a farmer can buy more equipment and sow more areas for grains.
Targeted food support for the needy
We have seen a gradual increase in bread prices since the beginning of the year. In Tatarstan, this coincided with the cancellation of the mechanism of republican subsidisation of enterprises baking social breads. Will the authorities’ approaches to subsidising bread bakers change?
Our commission thinks that it is necessary to provide targeted food aid, not subsidise producers directly. Amid the appreciation of staples, it is more effective to help needy people than “spread” subsidies in the bread baking industry. This way we subsidise everybody, even those who don’t need it. While it is necessary to help unprotected categories of the population — single mothers, large families, pensioners. We have been trying to secure targeted food aid. Somebody calls it food coupons, while I like such a system when the needy are given money so that they can themselves spend it on bread and other foods.
While bread bakers should rather be subsidised through preferential loans on equipment and working capital financing. We think it will be much more promising than giving money for every kilogram of flour.
Amid the appreciation of staples, it is more effective to help needy people than “spread” subsidies in the bread baking industry. This way we subsidise everybody, even those who don’t need it
A year ago, you became the vice chairman of the Russian Civic Chamber’s Commission for the Development of the Agro-Industrial Complex and Rural Territories. What key problems in the Agro-Industrial Complex can you single out? Which of them have you if not solved at least managed to set in motion?
We constantly work on the land. This year, there is a number of novelties. The State Duma adopted a law that allows farmers to build facilities in their land. This is done to make sure it is comfortable for farmers to live and work in the countryside, while resellers and large landowners don’t have a chance of re-buying the land. Now we can see that cottages are built in agricultural lands of big cities. We worked with the State Duma’s committee on this bill.
While now we are elaborating a bill to improve real mechanisms of allocation of parcels without auctions. Unfortunately, such a practice doesn’t exist everywhere. In some regions, farmers hold closed auctions, while the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service challenges their legitimacy due to insufficiently clear formulations. Literally a comma is missing, but this gap doesn’t allow farmers to use the land accordingly. Due to the absence of one comma, the service cancels this auction. For this reason, a lot of regions stop dealing with auctions, let alone municipalities.
A follow-up question. In the last 10 years in Tatarstan, the number of farmers has reduced three times from 14,500 to 4,500, while the amount of active farmers is less than 3,000. Is not this initiative late? Who will work in the countryside?
This bill is designed to increase the number of farmers together with land allocation so that they will return from cities to the countryside and cultivate the land, create a life and business in rural settlements. As for the number of farmers, there are quite a lot of dead souls here who are registered but in fact don’t run an activity. In reality, 3,000 farmers is a big number. This is why it is necessary to measure the dynamics in these 3,000 farmers, let’s say, a comparable number works in Moscow Oblast.
Literally a comma is missing, but this gap doesn’t allow farmers to use the land accordingly. Due to the absence of one comma, the FAS cancels this auction
“It is no secret that there is a gradual assault of chain stores in the country”
Farmers have long been complaining about difficulties with selling the harvest. What is done in this area?
Indeed, farmers who produce a small amount of produce have problems when selling products. It is no secret that there is a gradual assault of chain stores in the country, they become larger, their number rises. Moreover, regional chain stores disappear, and small farmers disappear with them. I will put a simple example. The village I live in used to have three small stores, while when a chain store opened, all small stores closed.
We cannot supply products to the chain store because it is necessary to take large quantities of produce to the United Settlement Centre. It is not interesting for them to work with us. And it turns out that we missed the chance of selling our produce. And this happens across the country. Last year, we brought up this at a meeting with the Russian president. I personally asked the question and said that we needed opportunities for small businesses. As a result, we managed to get a solution. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a decree that farmers will at least no longer be prohibited and permitted to at least sell produce in their land. Earlier, a lot of farmers were even fined for illegal trade. It was very sad. Secondly, we achieved the adoption of the government’s recommendations for regions so that they will facilitate the development of regional farmers’ markets and fairs on the spot.
The Russian president has also said that about this many times so that farmers can directly sell the produce they grew. An intermediary, excess surcharges are ruled out in this case, while the consumer has fresh products on the table. I hope these decisions will bear fruit, and the problem will step by step be solved.
When farmers want to put up a point, they certainly should be given a chance of doing this free so that they can sell their products or products of agricultural cooperatives
Could you tell us on what terms farmers can sell produce at fairs in regions? For instance, the head of the Tatarstan Association of Farmers said that the budget compensates for farmers’ costs on delivering products to urban markets, while they are obliged to take down the trading area after the fair closes.
In any case, organisational costs should fall on farmers’ shoulders. The state can help in another area. When farmers want to put up a sales point, they certainly should be given a chance of doing this free so that they can sell their products or products of agricultural cooperatives. Another practice exists in Moscow. The city administration built a market where any farmer can up and sell produce. There are a lot of such successful projects. And we find the possibility of selling our products there. Different regions follow different paths.
The development of rural territories is a sore point for the countryside. Recently at a meeting of Volga expert club in Kazan, leaders of rural municipalities complained that it was impossible to stop the outflow of the youth because the infrastructure didn’t meet the requirements for a comfortable life. They pin their hopes on the launch of a new programme to develop rural territories comprehensively. Are you involved in its elaboration?
There is a saying, you know, “We lived poorly, then we were robbed.” This is how the countryside development programme was approximately treated last year. With the adoption of the 2021 federal budget’s draft, State Duma Vice Speaker Alexey Gordeyev even refused to vote for the budget because the programme wasn’t taken into account in the draft of the 2021 federal budget. The funding of the comprehensive countryside development programme was cut five times, to 30 billion instead of 160 billion rubles. This year, we will try to make sure the programme expands and its size is proper. We cannot attract staff in agriculture without it. And there are not schools, basic amenities and a sports venue in the countryside, people will simply not come.