Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Executive summary

This paper addresses both the situation of food security and the outlook for removing constraints on food security in the future. Chapter 1 outlines the changes in agricultural production in the 1990s that have led to a policy debate on food security in the Russian Federation today and reviews Russian views on the topic. Chapters 2 through 4 assess the state of food security using three core concepts. Chapter 2 critically assesses the main indicators of food availability in the country; Chapter 3 discusses the evidence on access to food by the population; and Chapter 4 discusses the nutritional status and diet of the population. Chapter 5 discusses the outlook for improvements in the state of food security.


The debate over “food security” in the Russian Federation over the past ten years has really been over agricultural policy. More specifically, it concerns how to interpret the changes in agricultural production and consumption that have accompanied the introduction of reforms in the Russian economy. There have been two quite important changes in production in the country since policy reforms started in 1992: a sizeable fall in livestock inventories and a corresponding fall in production of feed grain. Accompanying these changes has been a sizeable fall in imports of grain and an increase in that of meat. On one side, the agricultural establishment has interpreted these changes as an ongoing “crisis” in the agricultural sector that threatens the food security of the country. On the other side of the debate, a small number of agricultural economists within the Russian Federation have pointed out that changes in food production have been caused by an adjustment in consumer purchases in line with a switch away from massive consumer subsidies toward actual scarcity prices for livestock products. In this respect, these changes in agricultural production were an inevitable part of a long-term market reform and consistent with an adjustment toward the comparative advantage of the Russian Federation in the production of crop rather than livestock products.


Sizeable falls in livestock and grain production in the Russian Federation in the early 1990s have inspired three concerns about the food security of the country. First, to what extent has food availability changed in the transition period? Second, to what extent has the country become more dependent, perhaps overly dependent, on imported food? And, third, to what extent is food availability of outlying areas threatened by the falling production trend?

On average, the Russian Federation does not appear to be food insecure by measures of food availability. Moreover, food availability does not seem to have fallen significantly in the transition period. In order to address the first question, changes in total food use were measured in terms of calories during this period as well as the mixture of food available to the population. Contrary to fears inspired by sizeable falls in food production, total caloric availability per capita per day has remained nearly constant over the period 1992-1999, declining by 3 percent. Food availability in calories has remained well above food inadequacy levels suggested by the World Health Organization/FAO/United Nations University (WHO/FAO/UNU) during the transition period. Although there have been sizeable changes in the mix and sources of food available, the availability of food in the Russian Federation today is actually higher than in other countries with similar incomes per capita. An international comparison shows that availability of food per capita per day exceeds that in developing countries by 10-30 percent and is about 20 percent less than that in the European Union.

The most significant change in food availability since 1992 has been a change in the mix of foods, away from products of animal origin toward those of vegetable origin. From 1992 to 1999 the percentage of calories available from animal products decreased from 26 to 23 percent. This reflects a decline in meat and milk products consumption and an increase in grain and potato consumption.

Import dependency ratios derived from Russian State Statistical Committee (Goskomstat) data show that there was no uniform trend toward increasing food import dependency in the 1990s. According to Goskomstat commodity balances, the Russian Federation’s dependence on imported food between 1991 and 1999 decreased for every commodity, including grain, vegetables, sugar and milk. It increased only for meat, from 13 percent in 1991 to 30 percent in 1999. Using FAO commodity balances, Russian food import dependence is not high by international standards, except for sugar. Russian food import dependence on grain, oils, vegetables, potatoes, eggs and milk were lower than comparable ratios in western European countries. For meat, import dependence was slightly higher than in western Europe. Dependency ratios in the Russian Federation are also less than for the group of transition economies (including CIS countries) and least developed economies (except for meat).

There is insufficient evidence to assert that administrative trade barriers threaten the food security of the population of Russia in the sense of causing food inadequacy. Average figures on oblast level caloric consumption did not fall below the FAO minimum energy requirement of 1 970 calories, on average, from 1997 to 1999. However, administrative barriers raise the price of food for food importing regions. Many of the increases in grain prices for food importing regions of 1997/98 seem to have derived from increased administrative barriers.


Two sources of food consumption information for the Russian Federation are analysed in Chapter 3: the official Goskomstat household budget survey (HBS) information and a special food insecurity survey carried out by Association Agro in 11 oblasts of the Russian Federation in December 2000 (AA Survey). The current Goskomstat HBS is an improved version of the Soviet Household Budget Survey carried out in 89 regions of the Russian Federation with a sample size of approximately 50 000 households. The purpose of the AA survey was to measure food consumption and attitudes in a sample of families around or below the official poverty line. The survey covered 2 963 households of 8 750 individuals.

Information on food consumption in 2000 from the Goskomstat Household Budget Survey (HBS) and the Association Agro Food Insecurity Survey cannot give accurate estimates of the degree of food inadequacy in the Russian Federation. The HBS is biased toward poor families and utilizes food conversion coefficients that seem to underestimate caloric consumption by about 10 percent. The AA survey lacks a well-specified sampling frame, so that information from this survey can be used only as a case study of the situation of households near or below the poverty line. Furthermore, comparison of estimates of food consumption from the two surveys indicates that in-kind consumption (and income) appears to be underestimated in the HBS, particularly for the poor.

AA survey information provides three robust conclusions about the incidence of food inadequacy in the Russian Federation. First, food inadequacy seems to be more severe the more urban the settlement. The greater food security of rural areas appears to be connected with the prevalence of private plots and their role as buffers against poverty. Eighty-nine percent of individuals in rural areas, 71 percent of individuals in other urban and only 46 percent of individuals in capital cities had private plots in the AA survey. A second robust conclusion from the AA survey is that food inadequacy is higher in larger families, though not necessarily in families with large numbers of children. A third conclusion is that pensioner families do not seem to be at higher risk of food inadequacy compared to other families.


In terms of the number of people affected, the pre-eminent nutritional problems in the Russian Federation are overweight and obesity in adults (over 50 percent of adults have a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 25) and various micronutrient deficiencies in both adults and children, including iodine and iron deficiencies. These health problems are risk factors for cardio-vascular diseases, certain types of cancer, diabetes, anaemia, goitre, gallstones, arthritis, osteoporosis and dental caries. Moreover, each of these maladies is connected to the unhealthy diet in the Russian Federation. Undernutrition appears to be a very slight problem. Neither child nor adult undernutrition seems to be a sizeable problem in the country.

An investigation of anthropometric indicators of nutrition by income levels highlights an extraordinary pattern: overweight and obesity among both children and adults dominate our findings in every income category. Even in the poorest group investigated, overweight and obesity are far more prevalent than underweight, indicating that undernutrition is a far lesser problem than overnutrition or malnutrition. For instance, in the poorest quintile of individuals from a nationally representative survey of adults and children (RLMS data for 2000) undernutrition indicators ranged from 1 to 12 percent for various subpopulations. However, overnutrition indicators ranged from 23 to 27 percent, depending on the sex and age of the individual.

This evidence points to the extraordinary significance among the population of “subjective factors” such as dietary preferences and policy. Dietary preferences of the population were shaped by previous Soviet policies of subsidizing livestock product consumption and the erroneous belief that large amounts of calories and animal protein were needed to prevent inadequate calorie intake. The high prevalence of overweight and obesity and the health consequences - cardio-vascular disease, breast cancer, etc. - are largely a consequence of these erroneous beliefs and policies of the past and current lack of knowledge of proper nutrition.

Nutritional problems cannot be held responsible for the sharp decrease in life expectancy from 1992 and 1994. A considerable increase in alcohol consumption during that period seems to be the single most important cause of rising mortality rates in the early reform period. At the same time, once again, the long-term overall mortality pattern is strongly determined by nutritional factors, since it is dominated by cardio-vascular diseases (CVD), which are largely preventable by healthy eating, avoidance of smoking and heavy drinking, and adequate levels of physical activity.

Children’s diets in the Russian Federation suffer from a relatively low rate of infant breastfeeding. Nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy and infancy can raise the risk of chronic diseases in later life. Thus, reducing child malnutrition is in the long run a preventive measure against cardiovascular and other lifestyle-related diseases (Popkin, Richards and Montiero, 1996a). Inadequate infant feeding practices, especially the low prevalence of breastfeeding, cause decreased tolerance for infection and malnutrition in infants. For children 0-6 years, evidence was found of overnutrition, which could explain the high prevalence of overweight among five-year-olds. For older children some evidence of undernutrition was found.

Contrary to the perception of many Russians who experienced some degree of deprivation and insecurity during the reform period (Martinchik, Baturin and Helsing. 1997), no deficits in calorie and macro-nutrient consumption were found on the average during the transition process. The average diet of Russians has even become healthier since 1990 due to decreases in milk, meat and fat consumption and a rising share of starchy staples like bread and potatoes. A further change to the better is still hampered by barriers to breastfeeding, poor knowledge of healthy diets and unfavourable food preferences (putting an emphasis on animal products rich in fat and protein and not on fresh fruit and vegetables), false recommendations on dietary intakes as a legacy of the Soviet era and low levels of physical activity (WHO, 2000a).

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page