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FAO report warns of a "tough winter" for vulnerable people in the Russian Federation

Empty shelves in a Moscow market: the urban poor face a bleak winter

A Special Report issued after an FAO fact-finding mission to the Russian Federation has warned that vulnerable groups such as orphans, pensioners, the unemployed, and households dependent on public salaries, "can expect a tough winter, especially in the large, depressed industrial cities".

Drought and unseasonally high temperatures between mid-June and August are blamed for a dramatic fall in food crop production in the Russian Federation this year. Total cereal production for 1998 is forecast to have fallen by 43 percent from last year. (Go to the full Special Report.)

FAO projects that a minimum of 4 million tons of cereal imports will be required to meet consumption needs in the 1998/99 marketing year. The production shortfall will put pressure on cereal stocks, which could plummet from last year's level of 20 million tonnes to a mere 6 million tonnes by the end of the marketing year. This implies increased costs and/or logistic bottlenecks which could be eased by additional imports.

Urban poor and people in remote areas threatened

Although basic food supplies should be adequate at the national level, there is concern that "internal trade barriers could provoke local shortages in the months ahead," according to the report. Poor city and town dwellers are at high risk, as are people in isolated areas.

"The overall picture masks wide disparities in food security status between geographical areas and socio-economic groups", the report warns. "Remote areas in the north and far-east face the risk of erratic food supplies and high prices."

The poor harvests will exacerbate what was already a dire situation for many people. The report says that "the emphasis of the previous system on geographically concentrated and highly specialized manufacturing has left the populations of several of the old industrial centres exposed to destitution".

The disabled are another highly vulnerable group. The inadequate public health system means that "temporary or long-term illness carries the risk of destitution. For all economically inactive groups the main source of social welfare is the family," according to the report. "Orphans remain a particularly high-risk group."

Pensioners and public employees are also on the vulnerable list. "The real value of state pensions and wages has been eroded by inflation and the severe fiscal squeeze has resulted in late payments of both," says the report. "Inflation could have extremely deleterious social consequences unless wages and pensions are indexed."

The report warns that, if emergency programmes are to be considered, "immediate steps are needed to enhance targeting, monitoring and distribution capacity". In the early 1990s, food aid distributions were hindered by an ineffective monitoring and auditing system.

Rural people have generally managed to adapt more successfully, frequently reverting to a traditional coping mechanism - production of their own crops in home gardens or "dachas". But this year's dry weather hit home production too. "In several parts of the country", the report points out, "drought and blight have led to major declines in dacha potato production."

Prospects for next year's harvests are not good

The report suggests that production may not rebound quickly after this year's bad harvest. Ploughing and sowing of the winter crops - for harvest in 1999 - are behind last year's and dry soil in the south has constrained plantings, impeded germination and emergence and forced farmers to replant in some places. Fertilizer deliveries have fallen below last year's levels too, although machinery and fuel supplies are reported to be normal. And Russia's notoriously harsh climate may also impede agricultural recovery, with current forecasts predicting "a particularly severe winter".

"Despite the prospects of higher prices and even on the assumption of favourable winter and 1999 spring weather", the report concludes, "a major recovery of cereal is unlikely in 1999."

Special Report on the Russian Federation

20 November 1998

Related links:

  • Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS)
  • Global Watch archive

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