Situation around the agricultural industry in Belarus.
It’s September, and the cannonade of this irreconcilable war does stop. However, all the state channels broadcast from the agricultural fields. And while propagandists talk about the victories of farmers and the losses incurred in the form of tons of stolen diesel fuel, let's try to rise a little above all this fuss and see how agriculture has transformed in the country over the past decades.
In fact, agriculture is an economic sector that is problematic and subsidized in many countries around the world.
In fact, a strange situation has developed on the planet: everyone needs to eat and millions of people are starving, but due to the specifics of the economy in different regions, the cost of food is so low that their production can work well only with the help of state support.
However, in most cases, the state supports the most efficient, private sector of the economy, while in Belarus huge amounts of money are poured into state-owned agricultural enterprises.
Also, it is worth noting that according to the international classification, we are a country with risky agriculture. This means that every agricultural season, farmers play a kind of roulette and can only hope that the weather will allow them to “win” by the autumn: to harvest the crop in the required quantity, and, what is equally important, of the necessary quality.
It is worth remembering in this regard that, for example, during the entire history of McDonald’s in Belarus, most of the time potatoes for restaurants of this brand had to be purchased abroad because domestic ones did not meet the required standards or could not withstand them for a long time.
But still, if you look closely, it becomes clear that the root of the problems in Belarusian agriculture is not our soil, but lies in the area of ineffective management. This main negative factor has not been corrected in the decades since the times of the BSSR [Soviet times - Ed.], on the contrary, it has only been constantly aggravated.
The fact that functionaries from Soviet agriculture are ruling the modern economy, and, as we see, they perform dreadfully, proves it.
What does the industry look like now?
Agriculture accounts for 7% of the country's total GDP, and because of this our economy can be classified as of industrial-agrarian type. In total, the industry employs 370,000 people - almost every tenth working resident of Belarus. The average nominal salary in the industry, according to the latest data, is 1,565 Belarusian rubles [about 584 EUR - Ed.].
If we compare it with the average figure for all sectors, it turns out that farmers receive only 80% of it. The figure is disappointing.
True, if you consider teachers, doctors and rural workers on the same level, it turns out that they earn approximately the same, but this only shows shamefully low income in highly qualified work in the field of medicine and education of our people.
We decided to compare the indicators of the modern Belarusian agricultural industry with those back in 1991. The starting point was not chosen by chance, because one of the main rhetorics of the authorities sounds like this: “We have preserved what happened under the Soviet Union.”
Let’s put aside the logical question: “Why haven’t they increased it in 30 years?” Let’s just try to find out whether so much was saved after the collapse of the USSR.
Let's start with livestock farming. It is quite clear that the number of livestock has decreased significantly. There were 6.9 million cattle in 1991, and only 4.2 million in 2023. Sheep farming also “blew away” almost fourfold, from 403,000 to 79,000.
The number of pigs has decreased by half: there were 5 million, and now there are 2.5 million. The only area where we see a slight increase is in chicken breeding: there were 50.6 million heads, and there are now 52.8 million.
A quick glance is enough to understand that it looks creepy. The whole country has been supporting agriculture for decades, but finally, we experienced a significant decline in almost all the livestock.
The small increase in chicken breeding can be considered compensatory - people still need to eat, but they had to get out of it by replacing expensive meat with cheap one. Some will say that the population of Belarus also decreased during this period (which also shows the state policy is not from the best side): in 1991, 10.19 million people lived in the republic, and in 2021 - only 9.34 million. But even so, the drop is absolutely disproportionate.
Perhaps someone in the future will still think that it is more profitable: to pour huge sums into maintaining zombie collective farms, or to live according to the sane market rules, and spend the freed funds on purchasing missing products on the world market.
But let's take a closer look at these numbers. The fact is that even more interesting details are hidden behind the general indicators.
For example, 775,000 out of the total number of cattle were raised by peasants in 1991, and in 2023 this figure dropped to 56,000. Of the 5 million pigs in 1991, 1.5 million were raised by Belarusian villages. Only 200,000 out of 2.5 million total livestock were from the private sector in 2023.
There is an interesting situation with sheep breeding: of the 403,000 in 1991, half were raised on collective farms, and the rest were on private farmsteads. And in 2023, out of 79,000 sheep, the population already supports the majority - 50,100, and farms - 17,300.
That is, the drop is dramatic at state-owned enterprises: from 209,000 to 11,000. But with chicken, the situation is the opposite: in 1991, 21 million birds out of a total of 50 million were raised on private farmsteads, and in 2023 the proportion has changed greatly - peasants keep only 3.8 million birds out of a total of 52 million.
To summarize, we see that 30 years ago a considerable share of the livestock industry was taken over by private farmsteads. There has been a significant outflow of village residents to the cities since that time. The state tried to take on the function of producer, but it is obvious that it failed to cope with this task.
And, again, the government is making the most of its efforts primarily to the production of the cheapest and simplest chicken meat possible when trying to “fix it”.
Now let's see how things are going with crop production. It is important to note here that, being part of the Soviet Union, the BSSR received many vegetables and fruits from other republics, where their production looked more rational and effective. But after the collapse of the huge power, it was necessary to undergo major changes, trying to ensure the country’s food security on its own.
The main indicator for us is grain, and it is worth noting that there is progress in statistics: in 1991, Belarus grew 6,296 thousand tons of grains and legumes, and in 2023 – 8,701 thousand tons. Productivity has increased due to many factors, for example, agricultural machinery has become more efficient, the approach to using fertilizers has changed, and we purchase high-quality planting material abroad.
But it is important to understand that not all of this grain is of high quality; a significant part of it is used not for bread production, but for animal feed. This is why Belarus is still forced to buy grain abroad for flour production. We do not have enough grain of the required quality.
The situation with potatoes is especially disappointing. Belarus grew 8,958 thousand tons of potatoes in 1991, and only 3,857 thousand tons in 2023 - a drop of more than half!
The situation with vegetables looks more optimistic. In 1991, 918 thousand tons were grown in the country, and in 2023 - 2,861 thousand tons, an increase of three! Fruits and berries have also increased noticeably: from 311 thousand tons in 1991 to 820 thousand tons in 2023.
As we noted earlier, this is partly a forced growth, since after the collapse of the USSR, Belarus had to independently meet the needs for many vegetables and fruits that were previously imported from other republics.
In conclusion, we would like to stress that here we discussed primarily quantitative indicators but not qualitative ones. The average grain yield in our country is 33 centners per hectare. This figure is much higher in neighbouring Lithuania - 45 centners per hectare, and this is a country with a more unpredictable climate.
Denmark, which is even further north, is 75 centners per hectare, and in Ireland, the yield is 100 centners per hectare.
At the same time, it is important to remember that the agricultural sector is subsidized everywhere, but it is obvious that when the main player in it is a private owner, the result is much higher.
It turns out that it is enough to simply create good conditions for the development of farmers, and then there is no need to carry out endless raids by the forces of regulatory authorities and arrange demonstrative and humiliating “punishments” of the managers of agricultural enterprises in front of the whole country and the fear of “enslavement” of workers in the countryside.
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