The previous three chapters have identified three key issues of food security in the Russian Federation. Chapter 2 critically assessed the main indicators of food availability. Chapter 3 discussed the evidence on access to food by the Russian population. Chapter 4 discussed the nutritional status and diet of the Russian population. The present chapter summarizes the policy implications of the preceding analysis.
Although food security has been used as a justification for protectionist agricultural policies and support for producers, we found no evidence that such policies improved actual food security in the Russian Federation.
No evidence was found to support the arguments made by some for support to agricultural producers, imposition of import tariffs or quotas on food imports or for government food distribution to outlying areas based on food security concerns. Food availability in terms of calories has remained well above minimum dietary energy levels consistent with a sedentary lifestyle suggested by WHO/FAO/UNU in the Russian Federation during the transition period. Likewise, no evidence was found of excessively high food import dependence for the Russian Federation using either Goskomstat commodity balances or FAO balances. Additionally, no evidence was found that outlying oblasts suffered from inadequate food availability, on average, from 1997 to 1999.
These conclusions indicate that there is little evidence to justify protectionist agricultural policies and support for producers on food security grounds. Agricultural policies designed to increase livestock or grain production or to limit food imports may be justified on grounds other than food security. The experience in western industrialized countries suggests that support to agricultural producers, tariffs and quotas tend to increase particularly the income of the large, commercial farms which produce certain commodities. These are not food security concerns and should not be confused with them.
Administrative barriers to trade impact most heavily on low-income households in grain deficit oblasts, and thus threaten their food security.
Although no evidence was found that outlying oblasts of the Russian Federation suffered from inadequate food availability on average from 1997 to 1999, there is evidence of significant increases in administrative barriers to trade in grain from 1995 to 1998. These barriers were expressed in significant increases in the differences in grain prices between regions. Price differences between grain producing and consuming regions in the country grew each year between 1995 and 1998. By raising prices in grain deficit oblasts, administrative barriers to trade have the most severe impact on low-income families, raising their probability of inadequate food intake.
Goskomstat could benefit from joint work with and technical assistance from international organizations and national research institutes in order to improve the household budget survey, particularly in the areas of income representativeness and food composition tables.
Adequate monitoring of food security in a country depends on reliable information on inequalities in food consumption in the population in order to build a comprehensive picture of the adequacy of food access in a country. The lack of robust estimates of the portion of the population with inadequate food consumption in the Russian Federation is a severe lacuna in the literature on Russian food security and socio-economic studies. This problem could be addressed by joint work between Goskomstat and international organizations, such as the World Bank, FAO and WHO, as well as with foreign national research institutions. Some particular problems identified in this study are the sampling methodology of the household budget survey in the Russian Federation in regard to income estimates. A way around this thorny problem is to carry out a separate nationally-representative nutrition study, working with WHO and FAO. Goskomstat would also benefit from working with the WHO and FAO to harmonize food composition coefficients.
Any remaining administrative barriers to the expansion of private plots should be abolished.
The most important safety net of the Russian population against poverty and food insecurity is private garden plots. These plots were found to be significantly more important for poor households in reducing poverty and ensuring adequate food intake than for better-off households. Of course, the abolishment of administrative limitations does not resolve the problem of increasing food supplies for poor families, since expansion of private plots costs money and more work to produce.
Food security cannot be dealt with in isolation from other more general policies for the alleviation of poverty.
One of the core reasons for food insecurity is the low level of per capita income in the Russian Federation. Economic growth in other countries has been shown to benefit both rich and poor. Growth-friendly and investment-friendly policies can thereby have the overall effect of reducing poverty, which is tantamount to reducing food insecurity. These are well-known maxims, but their simple truth bears repeating. The stagnation of the Russian economy due to slow structural reforms in the 1990s is the single most important impediment to food security in the Russian Federation.
Urban areas, as the most food insecure, should be the predominant targets of any food relief policies.
Results from the Association Agro Survey of Food Security show that the risk of food inadequacy is considerably more severe in oblast centres than in other urban areas. The risk of food inadequacy is lowest in rural areas. It is appropriate, then, that government or NGO food-related relief policies should emphasize urban areas of the Russian Federation.
A school lunch programme could go a long way towards resolving problems of food inadequacy and malnourishment in lower-income, large families in the Russian Federation.
Results from the Association Agro Survey of Food Security show that larger families and lower income households were at greater risk of food inadequacy. Therefore, food-related relief policies should be targeted with this in mind. An excellent programme for consideration is a nutritionally balanced, subsidized, school lunch programme. School lunch programmes have many advantages over other means of nutrition support in the population. School lunch programmes target children in public schools, thus excluding children of better-off parents who may send their children to private schools and whose income makes subsidized food unnecessary anyway. School lunch programmes also target assistance to children after weaning. In Chapter 4 it was found that, while the mean caloric intake of Russian children 0-6 years of age seemed to be more than adequate, that of children from 7 to 13 years of age fell short of the daily intake recommended in the United States. School lunch programmes can assist in resolving this problem. Another advantage of school lunch programmes is that they are targeted on a specific, vulnerable group that should have wide appeal in government and private business.
The Russian Federation would benefit from having a system of child nutrition monitoring in public schools.
A school lunch programme is only one part of an overall effort at monitoring child nutrition in public schools, which would be an appropriate way to better target interventions. This study found that overweight and obesity are quite prevalent, particularly in poor families. It was also found that caloric intake of children aged 0-6 was more than necessary. Problems of overnutrition should not be exacerbated by food supplies directed to the wrong recipients. Therefore, a monitoring system for child growth and development in public schools would be a good base for well-targeted interventions. Further research, using this monitoring base, could help to better identify the causes of child malnutrition and shed light on the reasons for the high stunting rate in infants and its association with overweight.
The Russian Government should undertake an educational campaign to promote breastfeeding and nutrition education for mothers and health professionals.
Another appropriately targeted intervention is a public information campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding and proper nutrition of infants and children. Low prevalence of breastfeeding and deficiencies in infant feeding (probably micronutrient deficiencies) may be responsible for high stunting rate in infants and its association with overweight. Since good nutrition in early life is the basis for health and adequate nutritional status in adulthood, the promotion of breastfeeding while it is being done, i.e. in the course of baby-friendly hospital care, is essential in this respect. The provision of adequate weaning and complementary foods, along with teaching mothers and health professionals about feeding practices, should be part of the strategy to improve infants and childrens nutritional status.
The Russian Government can greatly reduce health risks in the country by promoting healthy diets and a healthy lifestyle, and by educating health professionals, teachers, and children in principles of a healthy diet.
Knowledge of proper nutrition and healthy diets in the Russian Federation has been severely distorted by belief in grossly exaggerated food intake guidelines promoted during the Soviet era (Popkin et al., 1997b). The level of awareness of the principles of healthy eating in the Russian population is quite low (Baturin, 2001). It is therefore necessary to change the understanding not only among the population, but among health professionals as well, of what constitutes a healthy diet. A programme of action for improving nutrition should be based on a consensus and involvement of various partners: the government and regional authorities, the general public and civil society health and education professionals, public health services initiators and coordinators, the food production, processing and trade sector, as well as academic institutions. Important steps have already been taken in the Russian Federation, such as the implementation of the WHO programme CINDI (Countrywide Integrated Non-Communicable Disease Intervention), workshops and regional initiatives to improve health and nutrition (WHO, 2000a).
The Russian Government can reduce micronutrient malnutrition in the country by requiring vitamin fortification of flour and milk and salt iodization and by subsidizing iron supplementation for pregnant women.
Common strategies to address micronutrient deficiencies on the country level are dietary diversification, fortification and supplementation. All three of these should be pursued in the Russian Federation. Fortification of basic foodstuffs like flour with vitamins and minerals is an effective means to address widespread micronutrient deficiencies that has an immediate effect, as it does not require changes in dietary habits. Fortification of bread is already practised, but only in a few regions and in insufficient amounts to close the gap in micronutrient supply. Vitamin-fortified milk is available, but at high prices. Legislation and incentives to producers are needed to improve this situation (Baturin, 2001). The vitamins of the B group, folic acid and possibly iron are suitable candidates for fortification, given their technological properties and the high prevalence of deficiencies. Iodization of salt is undertaken in the Russian Federation, but production and consumption of iodized salt are still too low to lift iodine supply to recommended levels (WHO, 2000a).
Fortification is an applicable short-term strategy. However, fruit and vegetables, which are rich sources of micronutrients, contain additional ingredients that are beneficial to health, such as various antioxidants (protective factors against CVD and probably some forms of cancer). Therefore, except for salt iodination, fortification is a second-best solution as compared to dietary diversification towards fresh fruit and vegetables, which should be preferably locally grown to prevent losses of micronutrients during storage and transportation. Changes in food preparation should be part of a strategy to increase vitamin supply: dietary intakes of vitamin C from vegetables could be improved if prolonged cooking of cabbage and other vegetables was avoided. Though they would increase the benefits of vegetable consumption, behavioural changes such as these are difficult to achieve in any population. In some regions, climatic conditions are not conducive to the production of fruit and vegetables (Baturin, 2001). Some of these obstacles may be overcome in the long run, and both nutrition education of the general public and of health professionals as well as cooperation with producers and retailers have a role to play in this respect. Fortification of basic foods could largely become superfluous if the consumption of fruit and vegetables increases.
Vitamin supplementation is an appropriate strategy to target pregnant women. This study found evidence of a high prevalence of anaemia among pregnant Russian women. Blood tests during antenatal care and iron and folic acid supplements, if necessary, could help to reduce anaemia as a post-birth complication. Improving the iron status of pregnant women would benefit their newborns, too. Information about appropriate feeding practices of infants would further help to preserve childrens iron status. In addition, giving up the habit of drinking black tea at meals would increase the bioavailability of iron: black tea might be replaced by herbal tea, or could be consumed at non-meal times (Tseng et al., 1997). This is also a prerequisite for the effectiveness of iron fortification.
The Russian Government can assist in reducing the risks for the population from overnutrition and cardio-vascular disease.
The most important nutrition and health problem of the Russian population was identified as overweight and obesity, which is connected with the high-fat Russian diet. Successful programmes to reduce overweight and obesity as well as other risk factors of CVD, lowering mortality from cardiovascular diseases, have been carried out in other countries (Pearson and Patel, 1997). Nutrition education is an important step in this process, especially if the erroneous beliefs about nutritional requirements among health professionals and the Russian population are considered (Popkin et al., 1997b). But this is not sufficient if applied in isolation. The food production, processing and trade sector should be involved to make healthier alternatives to traditional foods available at affordable prices, e.g., low-fat meat and milk, fresh fruit and vegetables. The ongoing shift from food from animal sources to food from vegetable sources and the decrease in fat consumption should be supported. Giving butter as food aid to the Russian Federation, where it is dumped at subsidized prices on the market, perpetuates harmful dietary habits instead of improving nutrition.
Since meat and meat products are sources of highly bio-available iron, and iron status is precarious in several risk groups in the Russian Federation, fat meat and meat products should be preferentially replaced by other iron-rich foods such as lean meat, fish, legumes and liver (WHO, 2000a). In order to maintain and eventually increase calcium intakes, a further reduction of milk consumption is not desirable, but substituting full fat by low-fat milk products is advisable. A higher share of fruit and vegetables in the diet would not only be beneficial due to their high content of various micronutrients, but also would reduce the energy density of diets and thus help to maintain body weight within a reasonable range. Sugar consumption should be reduced, but an even more important step to decrease CVD risk and improve public health and life expectancy in the Russian Federation would be the reduction of alcohol consumption, especially among adult males. Since a large proportion of alcohol stems from illicit sources, taxation and bans might have a limited effect. Encouraging physical activity might help to reduce the high prevalence of overweight and obesity and other risk factors of cardiovascular diseases.
Food aid is probably not an appropriate intervention for a country with the Russian Federations problems of food insecurity.
Food aid packages of bread, meat and dairy products seem to miss the more pressing issues of food insecurity in the Russian Federation. Anthropometric indicators are perhaps the most reliable indicators of undernutrition we have for the Russian population. Monitoring since 1992 indicates that between 1 and 8 percent of children and adults suffer from undernutrition in the Russian Federation. They also indicate that overweight and obesity are problems for over 30 percent of the adult Russian population. Thus, the most pressing food security concern in the Russian Federation is not undernutrition, but overnutrition and malnutrition, which are both results of unhealthy diets.
Several authors (Kramer, 1999; Serova, 2000; GAO, 2000) have analysed the welfare effects of the 1999-2000 food aid to the Russian Federation. They found a number of reasons why food aid may not have been the most appropriate response to the pressing food security concerns of the country. According to these studies, the threat of hunger in 1998 may have been exaggerated. The observed decline in grain production in 1998 was mostly due to a lower harvest of feed grains. Production of food grains in 1998 and 1999 was only slightly below the average food needs, and the quality of that food grain was high (ERS/USDA, 2000). These studies also found that by the time the food aid was received, it was no longer needed. Most of the aid was shipped in the late summer of 1999 when Russian producers started to harvest their new crop. These studies also found that the targeting of food aid was poor. No more than 5 percent of the food supplied under the programme ever made it to the intended recipients (Kramer, 1999). The large proportion of aid was shipped to Moscow and St. Petersburg, the wealthiest and best-supplied areas of the Russian Federation.
The studies also found that food aid actually harmed Russian domestic producers by selling food at below market prices (GAO, 2000). Under the agreements with the EU and the United States Government, the Russian Federation was prohibited from exporting any commodities that were shipped under food aid. Serova et al. (2001) reported a significant reduction in Russian export of grains and wheat flour as a result of these restrictions. Last, the studies found that food aid set up deleterious incentives to implement economic reforms in the country. First, the knowledge that food aid could be had at the time of perceived need may lessen the overall incentives to implement economic reforms in agriculture (Kramer, 1999). Food aid fuels corruption, rent-seeking and waste (Kramer, 1999). Local distributors of food aid were not chosen on a competitive basis. Instead, insider-controlled procurement agencies were used (Serova, 2000). Thus, food aid helped preserve the centralized system of food marketing.
The overall record of food aid to the Russian Federation is perhaps mixed at best. Food aid improved food availability and may have helped consumers, but poor targeting and creation of possible distortions to local markets may have limited its positive effects. The food aid effects on producers were likely to be negative due to depressing effects on prices. The unintended effects of food aid were corruption and preservation of centralized system of food marketing due to transparency in choosing the agents that distribute aid in the regions and poor monitoring. Perhaps most importantly, food aid is designed to address a problem - inadequate food consumption - which this study has shown is far from the main problem of food security in the Russian Federation.
 In the AA survey
undernourished households received food aid at exactly the same rate as
sufficiently nourished households. Twenty-seven percent of both types of
households received aid.|