Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Russia's Farm Comeback

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Russia's Farm Comeback

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Russia's Food Policies and Foreign Policy" by Stephen K. Wegren, in Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2010.

ONLY 20 YEARS AGO, IMAGES of disgruntled Soviet citizens standing in long queues near rundown groceries were a common sight on Western television. But recently, the fruits of the Russian zemlya (earth) have made their way to dinner tables from Oslo to Miami. The resurgence of Russian agriculture introduces a new and intriguing dimension into relations with the often bellicose giant, writes Stephen K. Wegren, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University: food policy.

In the years leading to and following the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russians endured "chronic [food] shortages, poor quality, poor selection, and even food rationing" Wegren writes. Longstanding state subsidies for farming collapsed along with communism, bringing agricultural production to a halt and causing food prices to skyrocket--they rose a mind-boggling 2,670 percent in 1992. During these tough years, much of the food Russians managed to get their hands on came from individual garden plots the Soviet government had parceled out when the food crisis dawned in the 1980s.

Buying food from other countries became common practice, with Moscow officials estimating that large Russian cities imported more than 70 percent of their meat in the mid-1990s. In 1998, after a particularly poor harvest, Russia had to accept nearly $1.5 billion in food aid and humanitarian assistance from the United States and the European Union. This "political humiliation" spurred the once proud superpower to make big changes to its food policy, Wegren writes. …

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