FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

FAO Flagships in FAO’s depository library in Russia: Zooming in on Food Security


On 21 December, the FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation together with the Central Scientific Agricultural Library (CSAL) – FAO’s depository library in Russia – presented the latest flagship publications of FAO in the Russian language. FAO experts from the Headquarters, FAO's Regional Office in Budapest and the Moscow Office introduces the papers.

Oleg Kobiakov, Directorof the FAO Office in Moscow, emphasized in his opening remarks the significance of the Russian language for FAO as one of the working languages of the Organization: “The key FAO documents have always been published in Russian, and the amount of such information material in Russian grows every year. They enjoy high demand, and not only in the Russian Federation.” 

Then the head of the FAO Moscow Office provided a short overview of the flagships: “Taking stock of this year, we would like to bring to your attention three major analytical reviews prepared by FAO individually or jointly with its partners. First and foremost, this is the report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023(SOFI 2023). It was first released on 12 July, on the opening day of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York, at the UN Headquarters. The publication contains data analysis, conclusions and recommendations developed jointly with partners – World Bank, World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). 

The next paper is Europe and Central Asia: Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2023 – Statistics and Trends. Russia belongs to the region of Europe and Central Asia (ECA) – based on the geographic division adopted by FAO, although in fact the Russian Federation is also member of FAO's Asia-Pacific structures. This report has a more recent history. Its methodology and the use of fresh previous year’s statistics makes it a rather useful practical tool for comparing views and adjusting policies of countries in the region with regards to agricultural sector development. 

Finally, in my opinion, the most insightful and deep-digging report looking into real costs and expenses of the agrifood systems’ functioning is The State of Food and Agriculture 2023 (SOFA 2023). FAO representatives and Russian co-speakers – scientists and our long-standing partners will introduce these reports. I believe this is an appropriate format for a fruitful discussion,” Oleg Kobiakov concluded.

Aghasi Harutyunyan, Deputy Director of the FAO Moscow Office, presented the publication titled “Europe and Central Asia: Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2023 – Statistics and Trends”, prepared by Tamara Nanitashvili, Senior Economist at the FAO Regional Office in Budapest.

The section of the Report concerning undernourishment and food insecurity, sets forth the following data:

• In 2022, the prevalence of undernourishment remained below 2.5% for more than a decade in all ECA subregions other than Central Asia, where it was 3%. To put this in perspective, in the same year globally 735.1 million people were undernourished (the prevalence was 9.2%).

• In 2022, in the ECA region, 111.1 million people, or 11.9% of the population were moderately or severely food insecure. This is 4.7 million fewer people than in 2021. By way of comparison: globally, 2,357 million were moderately or severely food insecure (the prevalence was 29.6%).

• According to FAO estimates, in 2022 the highest prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity was found in Georgia (36.5%), followed by Albania (30.2%) and Ukraine (28.2%).

Conclusions, as suggested by FAO experts, are the following:

• The regional prevalences of undernourishment and moderate or severe food insecurity are lower in the ECA region compared to world estimates.

• In children under 5, undernutrition (stunting and wasting) is lower than the global estimates, but overweight is higher.

• Prevalence of anaemia in women of 15-49 years of age is lower than the global estimate.

• In 2021, 25.7 million people in the ECA region could not afford a healthy diet, which is 2.7 million people less than in 2020.

FAO believes the following are contributing factors of the above issues: war and conflicts, economic slowdowns and downturns, rising costs of foods and natural (climate, market) shocks.

“There is no doubt about the quality and scale of such research done by FAO,” noted in her turn Professor Evgenia Serova, Director for Agricultural Policy and Head of the Institute for Agrarian Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics. “But I do have doubts as to the concept. The world has changed drastically. We are living in a different world. The main definition of food security was developed in the early 1970s and it boils down to accessibility and affordability of food for all, to its quality and safety and to the stability of these indicators. 

The concept was based on the presumption of existence of the liberal trade system, which implies that food can always be purchased in the global market at a fair, that is, at a balanced market price. This means that food should be produced where there are natural advantages, that is to say, you should not try to grow bananas in Siberia or coffee in the Murmansk oblast. 

In 2006–2008 a food crisis broke out, and developed countries introduced export restrictions, while many developing countries turned to import substitution. 

Since then, FAO has stood out against import substitution, because it leads to higher food prices and its lower affordability. After 2014, sanctions were imposed on Russia, affecting food products as well. Later there was the coronavirus pandemic that disrupted supply chains, which stimulated import substitution even more and pushed countries towards self-reliance. And finally, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has put a fat full stop on the process. 

Agricultural businesses, faced with a limited access to primary resources, are opting for vertically integrated supply chains. As a result, prices of food products are increasing and, naturally, their affordability for the population is dropping.

Professor Natalia Shagayda, Director of Agrifood Policy Centre at RANEPA, recalled that in accordance with the Food Security Doctrine for Russia, food security is achieved when “food independence is ensured, and every citizen’s consumption is in line with an adequate food basket, and food itself is safe.”

Professor Shagayda emphasized that FAO methodology was used to assess the situation. “The Russian Statistics Agency conducts surveys on perceived food insecurity. Household surveys allow us to identify the economic and physical ability of households to have an adequate food basket.”

The latest surveys have revealed a paradox, as pointed out by Professor Shagayda: “Formal indicators of food affordability are worsening, whereas the perception of food insecurity is improving.” 

The expert said that over the past two years, “city dwellers could afford a better (food) basket.” In rural areas, the share of food in consumer expenditures has increased – and more food is purchased in supermarkets than produced by households (except for vegetables and potatoes), but the share of produce from own gardens in the diet has shrunk (10 years ago it accounted for 4.5 %, now only 2.3 %). However, rural foods are cheap and less processed. 

On the one hand, not all rural areas have access to chain department stores (most villages have a population of less than 200 people, and the quality of road connections is problematic). On the other hand, areas where enough of own food is produced have a larger share of households that can afford a complete diet.

“In Russia, average balanced diet indicators are high”, Professor Shagayda said in conclusion. “Nevertheless, if we look at a population group breakdown, these never reach 100%. I have never calculated how many people in the Russian Federation live on two dollars per day. I thought there were none. It turned out, however, that their share was significant, although we have largely achieved food self-sufficiency.”

Professor Sergey Kiselev, Head of the Agrarian Economics Department at the Faculty of Economics of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, commented on projections about global agrarian sector development and food security in 2024. “First off, in terms of growth rates the global situation is not particularly favourable, which surely will affect food security. It will not improve in 2024. Second, I hope that the food security indicator will not drop to the level of the early 2000s, but in the near future it will deteriorate – not critically, but it will. Third, this situation is determined by the fact that conflicts are breaking out all over the world, and their number is rising."

Then Professor Kiselev elaborated on methodological gaps in the reports. The report on “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023” (SOFI 2023) speaks about costs and expenses. The True Cost Accounting (TCA) section should include true costs and benefits, but there is no list of benefits for agriculture.

Furthermore, Professor Kiselev went on, “the level of negative costs for developed countries, that is, for high-income countries, has been downplayed. The methodology employed by FAO experts virtually does not include any negative costs relating to, for example, packaging and in particular, the use of plastics. Answers to questions on food prices trends are diplomatic and evasive. No indication has been provided as to the areas of statistics that need to be further developed in order to continue research in this field.”

...The discussion among experts at the Central Scientific Agricultural Library (CSAL), which brought together over 100 specialists (including online participants), has clearly demonstrated the relevance of a scientific approach, in particular of a critical one, to analyse statistical data on such a top-of-the-agenda issue as global and national food security, as well as the criteria of its achievement that may vary along with the geopolitical and economic reality.