Sustainable Agriculture: A Priority for the Government and Business
Russia has made the progress needed to develop agribusiness at SMEs and to foster organic farming
“Today, sustainable agriculture is primarily about the amalgamation of science and technology. What is implied today by the terms, ‘selection’ and ‘genetics’? These things are no longer about working in laboratories. They imply working with enormous amounts of data. We are also talking about separate analytical complexes which, having analysed all varieties of plant species that we have today, enable us to plan – to predict – which genes are actually behind abilities to withstand temperature- and other weather-related conditions. From this, we can develop new varieties. <...> This cannot be done without big data. <...> The progress that has been made in the Russian Federation will specifically help small and medium-sized enterprises. That’s where we’ll be seeing organic farming emerge – the kind that we’ve already heard about today from our colleagues. That’s because even in the micro- and macro-business environment, there are some companies which are already certified organic producers. Today, there are companies which are economically ready to grow these products, and derive a decent result from it,” Elena Baturova, Director of the Centre for the Development of Financial Technologies, Russian Agricultural Bank.
“The situation around food security has been worsening for three years now,” Eugenia Serova, Director, Institute for Agricultural Research, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
An insufficiently developed biotech sector and the politicization of food
“Looking at all investments made in agriculture in 2021, we can see that biotech accounts for just 5.6%. Why is this figure so small? First of all, it’s because biotech is a science-intensive industry. Science‑intensive industries do not offer instant results, and you can’t just advertise a job vacancy and get another few hundred professional IT specialists. You can hire professional IT specialists, but unfortunately, not the kind who can push the boundaries of science and develop biotechnologies,” Elena Baturova, Director of the Centre for the Development of Financial Technologies, Russian Agricultural Bank.
“If we continue on the same path of development, then today’s crisis will again spill over into some form of war. <...> Food is hostage to the politicians. <...> Food prices have doubled since 2000. <...> War, disease, droughts, and floods are invariably accompanied by the spectre of famine <...> At the most fundamental level, governments everywhere are tasked with feeding their people. That’s because if a person is not fed, their health is under threat. A person who is insufficiently healthy will not go and get an education. And without an education, they will not make any impact on a labour market which is increasingly competitive and requires people to possess the latest knowledge,” Oleg Kobyakov, Director, Liaison Office with the Russian Federation, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
“Famine mainly occurs in countries with outdated agricultural industries that do not employ technology. <...> Over the course of the 20th century, humanity pulled Eurasia out of famine primarily [with the help of – ed.] high-tech approaches to agriculture,” Vladimir Avdeenko, Head of the Directorate for the Development of Agro- and Biotechnologies, Innopraktika.
Encouraging foreign scientists to come to Russia, and focusing more on education and training specialists for the agricultural industry
“Even in light of the current situation, I think that if we encourage scientists from around the world to come and work here, we will be able to eliminate a certain shortfall. It’s one thing if we need time to train up our own scientists, and another when these specialists already exist and are ready to come to Russia and work. I know that there are already some example of this, specifically with regard to replacing foreign imports of technology. We already have people from Taiwan, China, and other countries who have agreed to the idea, and have come to Russia. So, I think that we can follow this path for now,” Elena Baturova, Director of the Centre for the Development of Financial Technologies, Russian Agricultural Bank.
“Today, it’s not enough to simply ship a certain number of tonnes of fertilizer. Today, we need to be able to provide comprehensive agricultural technologies. These should include a digital information service and scientifically grounded agricultural techniques. This is to ensure that the schemes developed for using fertilizer are employed as effectively as possible. This way, we will use exactly the quantity of fertilizer required while cultivating the biggest possible crop. Many people underestimate the value of qualifications and the role of science and education. However, these are crucial aspects,” Konstantin Ivanov, Head of the Department for Relations with Government Authorities and International Activities, URALCHEM; Executive Secretary, FoodNet.
“Famine is not so much to do with natural disasters and wars as about the fact that we fail to develop and use technologies that can help us produce better, higher-quality, and more food. <...> Genetics and new technologies developed by leading scientsts <...> are all part of the reality of agriculture now. The capacity of selection programmes can be increased several dozens of times over. The speed at which data is processed can be increased several thousands of times over. This is data which allows us to develop new varieties and hybrids. Ultimately we can increase turnover of varieties. <...> We need to work towards the creation of these technologies. We must not only endeavour to attain technological independence, but obtain the key to these technologies. This is something which we, here in Russia, can do,” Vladimir Avdeenko, Head of the Directorate for the Development of Agro- and Biotechnologies, Innopraktika.
Boosting the prestige of the agricultural industry as a career option
“We believe that agriculture in the Russian Federation depends a great deal on the workforce. We believe that a new workforce should join the industry. <...> However, not everyone is aware of what an interesting and promising area of work it is,” Elena Baturova, Director of the Centre for the Development of Financial Technologies, Russian Agricultural Bank.
“We need to see tens of thousands of specilaists joining the agricultural industry who know their technology. Otherwise, we will not be able to relaunch the process [of getting the industry operating – ed.] according to modern demands,” Vladimir Avdeenko, Head of the Directorate for the Development of Agro- and Biotechnologies, Innopraktika.
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