The territory of the Russian Federation incorporates extremely diverse natural environments. In its western part, vast plains prevail (East European and West Siberian plains, divided by the Ural Mountains). In the east are plateaux and mountainous areas of southern and northeastern Siberia and the far east. In the south of the European part of Russia there are the chains of the Greater Caucasus and the mountain of Elbrus. The climate varies from maritime conditions in the extreme northwest to the continental type in a range of climatic zones ranging from the Arctic belt to the subtropical areas.
Arable land covers some 222 million ha. The soils are complex, with mixed composition (acidic/saline/alkaline) and not particularly suited to agriculture. Some 54 million ha are affected by wind or water erosion, another 25 million ha are waterlogged or swamp, and more than 10 million ha suffer from heavy industrial pollution. The planted land surface accounts for about 88 million ha (1999), while about 44% of the total surface of the Russian Federation is covered in forest.
Agro-food exports represent 2.9% of total exports, and agro-food imports are 26.3% of imports.
Russian agriculture in general has suffered from low productivity within its crop and livestock sectors, as large tracts of its vast expanse present unfavourable conditions. Restricted water resources and harsh climate conditions combined with inefficient rural management, complex socially-oriented problems and confusingly cumbersome agricultural policy contributed to the gradual deterioration of the sector. The current decline of the level in agricultural output is also attributable to the worsening of the macro-economic situation (inflation, recession, low wages, unemployment), lack of promotional incentive, deterioration in the terms and conditions of trading of agricultural products and the disruption of trade agreements with traditional partners. The situation has been aggravated by the disintegration of the former common market and related systems of payment, reduction in financial resources (reduced credit to the production sector and subsidies to agricultural enterprises), lack of cohesion in the privatization policy, as well the weakening of agricultural research, outdated and frail rural infrastructure and high cost of agricultural inputs. As a consequence grain and other crop production of late has dramatically declined.
Despite these adverse conditions, agriculture has nevertheless played a vital role in the national economy, contributing 25% to net production output, employment and capital investment. The countrys main food crops are wheat, barley, maize, rye, oats, potatoes, millet, buckwheat, rice and pulses, whereas one of the most important branches of Russias agro-industrial complex is forage production. This area not only determines the level of livestock industry development, but also influences the situation in agriculture as a whole. About 80 million ha of pasture and hay lands and 40 million ha of arable area are used for forage production. Over 70% of the gross grain harvest is used for feeding poultry and livestock.
Current (1999/2000) overall grain production is expected to reach 63 million t against a total national requirement of 75 million t. In the past, the difference was compensated for through massive purchases of grain or through humanitarian grain supply. The latter form of supply is contemplated at present.
All land is property of the state, the government being empowered to allocate and lease land tracts of varying surface to institutions and individuals. Allocation of land is the responsibility of a special state committee (KUGI) which assesses and reviews each case. Some of the former state and collective farms (sovkhoz and kolkhoz) have been leased to share-holders having the right to exploit the land and use its facilities, while other farms still remain the property of and are managed by the state under the overall supervision of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences (RAAS) or the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
Cultivated land totals 88 million ha (European Russia) on which operate a total of 31 000 agricultural enterprises, including some 3 000 small-scale leaseholds and over 151 000 farm lands. Of the total land cultivated, 66% represents agricultural enterprises, inclusive of 2% of small-scale leaseholds and 7% farmers. Urban population using allocated land facilities amounts to 5%; use of this land is normally for personal needs (1999 data).
The last three years of attempted reforms have led to the distortion of the former land management system, neglect in crop rotation and the cessation of land reclamation activities. Also, the economic and financial degradation of rural areas has forced the active rural population to seek refuge in large industrial urban areas to improve their poverty-stricken condition. Moreover, the collapse of the past trend to extend agricultural education and training to rural population left them without the basic technical support needed in farming.
Availability of agricultural inputs
The cost of fertilizers, pesticides and other agro-chemicals is extremely high. Economic difficulties and politically motivated reasons have had a drastic effect on the use of fertilizers, the application of which diminished fivefold. Farms are inadequately equipped and the existing machinery is either obsolete or out of commission. The current production of agricultural machinery seems not to be oriented towards small-scale rural enterprises, which form the base of the present agrarian system. The existing production of smaller tractors and other agricultural machinery suitable for small-scale enterprises does not meet demand, and, in any case, prices are beyond the reach of local farmers.
Although the role of women involved in other than the agricultural sector exceeds that of their male counterparts, the gender structure of women employed in agriculture represents 34% versus a corresponding male employment of 66% (1997).
The seed sector in the former Soviet Union was organized and based on the principle of centrally planned economy, consisting of state-controlled organizations covering scientific and research institutes, including specific crop breeding, seed production and supply responsibilities. The Ministry of Agriculture exercised full control over production and agricultural supply systems and, in the case of seeds, granted production licences to selected farms associated with the breeding institutes. Despite current attempts to reform the seed sector with a view to introduce new concepts based on commercial lines, the overall situation remains practically unchanged. Substitution and development of the former system by commercially oriented ventures, including the concept of their functioning as autonomous units under a joint-stock companies system, has not yet fully materialized and the blueprint of the former central executive command is still virtually in place.
The few commercially oriented associations operating under a joint stock system have direct organizational and economic links between seed production and plant breeding practices, and are capable of the added structural adjustment of the seed production system to the free market conditions. One such association (the largest in the Russian Federation) operates as Russian Seeds, with a staff of over 1 000 and some 50 stations involved in the seed sector, including seed breeding, multiplication, production and marketing aspects.
Currently, 43 breeding centres or institutions within the structure of RAAS are engaged in breeding activities, with particular emphasis placed on most economically important crops (cereals, potatoes, flax, beet, vegetables, etc.). Commercial ventures, including private firms, are involved in seed multiplication for market use. These concerns associate themselves with breeding centres and institutions for the selection of new varieties, with high commercial potential. The Law of Breeders Rights was passed in 1996. The authority responsible for its enforcement is the State Commission for Seed Variety Testing and Protection.
Variety evaluation, testing and registration
Evaluation, testing and registration of new varieties is the responsibility of the State Commission for Seed Variety Testing and Protection, located either centrally in urban conglomerations or affiliated units in rural areas. The Commission issues on a yearly basis an official register where new plant variety are registered for future use. Seed legislation includes accession on 18 December 1997 to UPOV. The Russian Federation acceded to ISTA in 1977 and is applying its standards and directives to testing and registration practices. However, lack of adequately equipped testing laboratories prevents the issuance of seed certificates for export. On average, of the 200 varieties submitted yearly for testing, only 20% pass the test.
Seed production activities are carried out by large experimental institutions, enterprises and farms on the basis of contractual arrangements. Seed production and multiplication of Super Elite, Elite and Breeding Elite qualities is carried out by seed production enterprises for commercial or industrial use.
Seed testing, certification and control
The State Seed Control Inspectorate is responsible for seed testing, certification and control in accordance with ISTA standards and practices. All seed material that is qualified and marketed must be tested by a laboratory and accompanied by a certificate. Because of financial constraints, testing laboratories are not properly equipped and are thus unable to issue certificates for seeds for export.
Samples of all crops introduced or imported from abroad are subject to obligatory testing at quarantine nurseries. Tests are carried out in compliance with the Regulations on Quarantine Inspection Procedures concerning Seed and Planting Materials on the territory of the Russian Federation.
Seed processing, storage and supply
The same institutions (seed production and multiplication institutions and associations) are responsible for seed processing, storage, marketing, supply and distribution.
All agricultural research is undertaken by scientific institutions within the framework of RAAS. Currently, the RAAS network consists of over 200 such institutions, including 43 breeding centres.
Training and extension
The Ministry of Higher Education has within its structure specialized institutions responsible for the training of specialists in agriculture. Institutions under RAAS have post-graduate departments to prepare qualified personnel in agricultural science. However, the acute financial situation has considerably limited possibilities for such education, training and extension. Also, the agricultural sector is of reduced interest to younger generations, since prevailing conditions in rural areas present a low standard of living, absence of modern facilities and techniques, and lack of career prospects. Aware of the present training situation in the country, the international community, through its cooperation agencies, provides scientific training facilities and grants. This form of assistance is widely used.
Plant Genetic Resources
The N.I. Vavilov All-Russia Research Institute of Plant Industry (VIR) is the principal research institute in Russia involved in plant genetic resources activities, covering collecting, preserving, evaluating and pre-breeding germplasm of cultivated plants and their wild relatives. The Institutes prestigious global PGR collection remains worldwide one of the oldest, and is a unique assembly of plant germplasm, numbering over 330 000 accessions of 155 botanical families, 2 532 species of 425 genera collected (local and foreign) since 1894. Within this collection, some 200 000 accessions are preserved in the long-term storage facilities. The Institute also maintains a herbarium of more than 250 000 specimens of agricultural crops, wild relatives and weeds. One of the Institutes main activities is to organize collecting missions at home and abroad for new accessions.
Despite current financial constraints, scientists of the Institute continue to participate and play a decisive role in breeding of practically all Russian crops of particular economic interest. The Institutes network includes its St Petersburg headquarters, consisting of nine plant genetic resources departments, thirteen scientific research departments and laboratories (physiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, etc.), auxiliary departments, and a network of thirteen experimental stations located in different ecological regions throughout Russia. In all, 500 scientist with high academic qualifications staff the Institute, in addition to its staff of 400. VIRs activities are coordinated by RAAS, and some of its scientific projects by the Ministry of Science, while its funding is provided from the state budget. The Institute actively cooperates with the majority of genebanks worldwide and national PGR programmes. It maintains close working links with international organizations, such as FAO, IPGRI, ICARDA and CT, as well as with ECP/GR.