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Politics and News from Belarus - Charter'97



Alyaksandr Yarashuk: Agricultural efficiency is measured by profitability rather than gross harvest
16:55, 19/09/2005, BelaPAN

Harvesting is traditionally one of the most important economic campaigns in Belarus. Alyaksandr Lukashenka always takes the lead in exercising control over it. He often describes this period of the year as a battle for harvest. In his view, it has both economic and sociopolitical significance.

Indeed, the harvesting season usually sees many more publicity activities in favor of the president than any other time. Meanwhile, grain production indicators still remain low, although they somewhat have risen in the recent years.

This year`s grain harvest is smaller than last year`s. It was seven million tons in 2004. This season can boast just 6.4 million. However, several months ago the Ministry of Agriculture and Foodstuffs still hoped that farms can have at least the same in 2005.

Bad weather is a usual reason to justify poor agricultural performance. True, it was raining for a rather long period of time during harvesting. In addition, there was a severe windstorm that brought a lot of trouble to the farming sector. Weather is also a major reason why privately cultivated land plots did worse than last year: just about half a million tons of grain against one million in 2004.

Independent agricultural experts say that the windstorm "ate" about 10 percent of grain harvest. In other words, if it were not for the windstorm, Belarusian farmers could again achieve last year`s record of seven million tons. It was possible biologically, experts say.

The worst performance was recorded in 1999, when farms collected just 3.5 million tons of grain against the planned target of seven millions. The government even had to cancel an annual harvest celebration, Dazhynki, in the newly renovated town of Shklow: there was no reason for celebration, in fact. Another eight Belarusian towns were luckier and hosted those celebrations starting from 1996 in Stolin. Then it was Masty, Nyasvizh, Dzyarzhynsk, Mazyr, Polatsk, Pruzhany and Vawkavysk.

This year`s harvesting festival is scheduled to take place in Slutsk. An exact date is not yet set but renovation and reconstruction works in the town are still in full swing.

The president`s task for 2006 is seven million tons, that is, the same as in 2004. Lukashenka mentioned that figure last year in Vawkavysk and referred to it as "the greatest victory, and it will take some time before we can fully appreciate it."

However, while speaking at a similar event in 2001, the Belarusian leader said that "to live normally and keep our heads proudly, we need to produce 10 million tons of grain per year."
Anyway, the harvest of seven million tons can hardly be considered a great agricultural victory. First of all, grain harvest in Belarus is calculated in accordance with old Soviet standards, that is, it is what grain weighs when it is just taken from the field, together with weed and dirt. In addition, humidity contributes a lot to grain weight. If harvesting takes place in hot weather, the difference between freshly collected grain and actual (barn) weight is usually between five and ten percent. The difference can be up to 30 percent under rainy weather conditions. This year`s grain harvest was really humid because of frequent rains.

Also, Belarus will have to import additional grain anyway, for both fodder use and bread making. But the government is buying less fodder grain in the recent years, and it plans to stop such imports altogether soon. As for bread grain, it will continue to be imported, because the country does not grow it.

And finally, even seven million tons of grain is below the world`s indicator of state food security. According to international standards, there should be about one ton of grain per each citizen. That means 10 million tons for Belarus, and this is what Lukashenka dreams of.

Above all, one can hardly describe seven million tons of grain as an agricultural success, if one takes into account the fact that the government provides enormous subsidies to state farms.
Alyaksandr Yarashuk, former leader of an agricultural trade union, says that agricultural efficiency should be measured by the degree of profitability and competitiveness rather than by gross grain amounts. But nice statistics are more important for the Belarusian authorities than actual results. This is already a question of politics and ideology.

Harvesting campaign is a golden publicity period for the Belarusian president. He makes dozens of trips to farms to see how the work is being done with his own eyes. Every trips get extensive coverage in the state media. Lukashenka`s team invites journalists, and they ask a lot of questions about the political situation in the country and many other things that are not really related to harvesting. As a result, the Belarusian leader always looks on TV as a wise person who takes care about food security and anything else happening in the country.

Thus, harvesting is getting increasingly politicized from year to year. In Lukashenka`s words, a battle for harvest is an important sociopolitical campaign and its results directly influence the government. Before harvesting started this year, the head of state asked farmers to do their best, apparently on the eve of next year`s presidential election, as if farmers with dissenting views usually try to do harm instead of good.

In general, countryside people respect the president. Farmers together with senior citizens account for the largest number of his voters. Besides, in terms of publicity, the former state farm manager fits very well with grain harvesters and amid ripe cereal plants.

Alyaksandr YARASHUK

Born in the Kamyanets district of the Brest region in 1951... Graduated from Kursk Agricultural University in Russia and from the Highest Communist Party School in Minsk in 1990 as a political scientist and sociologist...Was chairman of the National Committee of the Belarusian Trade Union of Agricultural Workers between 1990 and 2002...Has been leader of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions since the fall of 2002.

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