The main priority of the Belarussian Ministry of Agriculture and Food is to ensure the country’s food security through enabling the production of high-quality and competitive products. As in integrator of the industry, the Ministry the sets the direction of technological development of the sector and ensures coordination under a single agricultural complex. Leonid Zayats, Minister of Agriculture and Food, Discusses recent developments, investment opportunities and areas for improvement.
European Times: How would you describe the Belarussian agricultural and food sector? What are the most significant projects currently implemented in this regard?
Leonid Zayats: Agriculture and food production is one of the priorities of our Government, since this sector determines not the wealth of a nation but, to a large extent, the social and political stability in society. Since 2005, we significantly changed our approach to rural development, which enabled a revival of the sector and a positive development dynamic.
In terms of production of the absolute majority of agricultural products per capita, the has significantly exceeded the similar indicators of other CIS countries for several years. For milk, we are ahead of many developed countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany, France; for meat, we have surpassed Germany and Great Britain.Since 2010, the food security of Belarus has been fully ensured. Moreover, for such products as eggs, meat, milk, the level of self-sufficiency of the country in 1,3-2,3 times exceeds the need.Practically for all basic foodstuffs, consumption is close to medical norms. Belarus has become not only a self-sufficient food country, but also an export-oriented country.
Projects in the agricultural and food sector are implemented within the framework of the State Program for the Development of Agrarian Business in the Republic of Belarus for 2016-2020. The goal of this program is to meet the needs of the internal market, as well as to increase exports to US$6.2 billion dollars and labour productivity by 40% until 2020. Structured in 12 subprograms, focus is put on improving production and marketing of agricultural and livestock products, as well as technical and technological modernization, the development of agricultural land reclamation, etc.
European Times: What are some of the initiatives of the Government?
Leonid Zayats: Over the past three years, Belarus adopted several Presidential Decrees and other normative and legal acts that determine approaches to state support for agricultural producers, pricing, subsidies, etc., which clearly outline the state’s development priorities. Those priorities include supporting the breeding business and seed production; supporting agricultural and veterinary education, construction and reconstruction of facilities, maintenance of lands, etc. In addition to subsidies, the regions land less favourable for agricultural production are entitled to increased premium for their products. Among the priorities of the government was also the systematic, ongoing measures for financial recovery of critically insolvent agricultural enterprises, which was aided with conversion of creditors’ claims, replacement of assets, sale of enterprises on competitive terms at attractive prices, etc., which enabled maximizing the potential of the problematic agricultural enterprises, restoring their solvency and creating attractive conditions for investors. Through the debt restructuring framework, 570 enterprises received instalment plans in the amount of 1.3 billion Belarusian rubles, and additional 90 enterprises were provided with state guarantees in the amount of 778 million Belarusian rubles.
European Times: In your opinion, what elements of Belarus’ agriculture need improvement?
Leonid Zayats: Durse in production efficiency, use of natural resources, strengthening of the infrastructure of the agro-industrial complex, further improvement of the organization of producing the current five-year plan, we plan to prepare the agrarian sector for effective functioning in the conditions of a single world food market through continued modernization of the spheres of production and processing of agricultural products. On this basis, we aim to achieve a significant increation, active introduction of technical and technological innovations, as well as structural transformation. All these goals will be accomplished through a step by step improvement.
European Times: What are the most successful companies working in the field of agriculture and processing?
Leonid Zayats: The most successful enterprises operating in the dairy cattle breeding sector include: Molodovo-Agro in the Brest region, Agrokombinat Snov and Vitex in the Minsk region, and Larinovka in the Vitebsk region, with a combined average production of more than 10.000 kg.In the pig industry, the best farms are the Kremko in the Grodno region, Danprod and Agrokombinat Snov in the Minsk region, with a combined average annual production of more than 8.000 tonnes. Leaders in poultry farming are Agrokombinat Dzerzhinsky, Smolevichi Broiler, and the Poultry Farm Druzhba – the poultry production of these enterprises makes up 40% of the total poultry production in Belarus.The most successful enterprises in the milk processing industry are Savushkin Product, Babushkina Krynka, and Kobrin, whereas in the meat processing industry most successful are the meat processing plants Grodenskiy, Brestskiy, and Bobruyskiy.
European Times: What makes the Belarusian agricultural and food sector attractive to foreign investors?
Leonid Zayats: In recent years, much has been done in Belarus in terms of the development and modernization of the sector. At the same time, attracting FDI remains as one of our strategic priorities. The country has a set of tools to speed up the innovation, the intensive modernization of agriculture and food industry, the restoration and creation of production chains, the development of cooperation on a multilateral basis, the joint implementation of large business projects, etc.
We offer investors a multitude of favourable conditions, including tax exemptions, exemption from import customs duties and VAT. Commercial organizations created with FDI have equal rights as the domestic agricultural organizations: to obtain loans for the purchase of tractors, agricultural machinery and equipment, including those transferred under long-term lease conditions; to acquire mineral fertilizers, oil products for spring field and harvesting operations; to receive other preferences granted to agricultural organizations in accordance with Government decisions, etc.
There are numerous companies with foreign capital in the sector, including: Verhniy Lug, Belsyr, Detskoselsky-Gorodok (Russian investment); Unimilk Shklov and Unimilk Pruzhany (Russian-French investment); BelDan (Danish Investment); Biovast (Lithuanian investment); Eastern Sheep and Hazar Fish (Iranian investment), etc. In the period between 2011 and 2017, foreign investments in the agricultural and food sector amounted to US$2 billion.
European Times: What are your recommendations to future investors?
Leonid Zayats: I want to invite investors to come and explore our country’s potential. Belarus is open for cooperation on mutually beneficial terms and is ready to consider proposals for the implementation of investment projects in the field of agriculture and food production, using the latest achievements of science and technology in order to further produce competitive products that will be in demand in the domestic and foreign markets.