GPC: The food security situation in Russia & Belarus: self-sufficiency, logistical headaches and economic instability
Sanctions on Russia and Belarus are causing further pressure on an already problematic global food and logistics environment. The story of an exacerbated food insecurity situation resulting from the war has been covered extensively, both in this publication and elsewhere. But what is the situation in Russia and Belarus in terms of access to food? How is the pulses industry in these two countries faring in light of the sanctions? Interviewing members of the public, the pulse industry and government officials, the journalists of the Global Pulses confederation report on the situation in Belarussia and Russia, sharing exclusive insights into access to and availability of food staples in light of the current conflict. (GPC)
In contrast to the difficult access to food staples facing many countries across the globe, it seems that, despite a whole host of sanctions on the two countries, food insecurity is not a threat for Russia and Belraus. Very few of the sanctions are food-related; limits have been imposed only on seafood and alcohol imports. Inna Golfand, a member of the Strategy Partners, confirmed that, at the moment, the import of any type of food to Russia has not been stopped because food products are not included in the sanctions lists. She added that, when it comes to basic foods, the only likely problem is with fruit: supplies to the Russian market may be reduced since most fruit is imported. This is confirmed by statistics from New Retail. According to its data, the share of imports in the structure of the fruit market in Russia in 2021 amounts to 58%. In this case, the Russian fruit market may become saturated because of problems with foreign supplies. However, the main fruit suppliers for Russia are countries that have not joined the sanctions.
In fact, Russia has been gradually working towards self-sufficiency when it comes to food. In 2014, it introduced a food embargo against the EU, the US, Ukraine and some other countries and has been steadily expanding it since. In the meantime, the country built up its domestic food sector, replacing some goods with domestic products and establishing imports of everything else from countries outside of the embargo.
The situation in Belarus is similar: the Minister of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade, Alexei Bogdanov, stated that the Belarusian authorities have ensured food security in the country and that Belarus will be able to switch to food imports from Asian markets, if necessary.
Belarusian economists note that there will be no food shortages in the country as, like Russia, it is fairly independent of imports. This opinion is confirmed by information from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Belarus. According to their data, locally produced products prevail in stores. Independent experts express the same opinion, noting that any shortages will be special cases: “For example, there will be cheese on the shelves, but some specific types, like Maasdam, will no longer be available,” said Lev Lvovsky, an economist at the BEROC research center.
Pulse consumption and volumes
Pulse supplies will not be a problem in Russia and Belarus as these markets are self-sufficient. In the general structure of the Russian chickpea market, imports are less than 1%. The current problems facing the Russian pulses market are entirely related to the sanctions, shipping issues and banking limitations that have halted exports for the time being. As a result, the global pulses market is under pressure as Russia not only ranks second in the world in the production and export of peas but also produces around 25% of the global chickpea supply and is a significant exporter of lentils.
Sergey Pluzhnikov, the head of the purchasing department of Grainrus, confirmed that production volumes of the main pulse crops in Russia significantly exceed consumption levels. Peas, chickpeas and lentils are not staple foods for most of the population as meat is the principle source of protein. According to Rosstat, the average pulse consumption per capita in Russia is 1.9 kg per year. This figure fluctuates slightly according to geography and is influenced by climatic conditions and cooking traditions; for example, in the Southern Federal District and the Privolzhsky Federal District, pulse consumption is higher than in the Siberian, Central, and Northwestern Districts.
Rustam Guliev, a GPC member from Top Grain Russia, noted that consumption data greatly depends on the sources of information. He estimated that Russian pea consumption is around 25 thousand tons/year while chickpeas sit at around 10 thousand tons/year and lentils at about 8 thousand tons/year.
Touching on the volumes of old crop products currently available, Guliev stated that there are about 220 thousand tons of peas in Russia with prices currently in the region of $290-300/ton. Meanwhile, chickpea volumes are around 28 thousand tons, with the price sitting at about $750/ton, and green and red lentil volumes are around 10 thousand tons, with prices for red lentils at around $800/ton and green at $1200/ton.
Truck driver Sergey Zmitrovich indicated that the usual transport connections between Russia, Belarus and European countries were disrupted because of the sanctions. Since April, Russian and Belarusian motor transport companies have been banned from transporting goods on European roads, although the restrictions do not apply to the delivery of pharmaceutical, medical and some agricultural products. However, there is a big problem with the delivery of packaging for food: drivers are obliged to take detours through different cities and countries to get the necessary materials for packaging food, significantly increasing transport costs, which is then translated into higher food prices. For example, Zmitrovich recently had to go on a tour round Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, a trip which took him about 40 days. He stood in lines and waited for instructions from customers who had to constantly change their plans due to sanctions. On top of this, Sergey noted that some drivers are encountering problems obtaining visas to the European Union.