Igor Abakumov: "Let’s help the Russian farmer!"

Published: February 6th, 2018

What is the future of rural Russia?
- Everything will depend on whether the agrarian policy will change or not. If it does not change, people will get rid of rural areas, because it is difficult to live in such conditions in the 21st century. If someone has no real business created ten-twenty years ago which works, then it is almost impossible to create new production now. The credits are inaccessible, loans are not available. If someone suggests otherwise now, they will name one or two or five examples, but these are single cases per thousand. This will be an exception rather than a rule.
And what about agroholdings? Can’t they promote the development of rural areas?
- Studies show that the territories which are captured by activity of large agroholdings, get rid of the rural population much faster than those where they are absent, and people preserve the traditional way of life. A country like Russia should be populated. The huge territory can't be left without control. Any settlement is, first of all, control over the territory, over cargo transfer, the circulation of extraneous incomprehensible people - I'm not just talking about terrorists now, but about them also, because the militants organize their camps in empty territories. Even over movement of a locust it is necessary to think. Who except the villager will report that the locust has arrived? We do not have a locust tracking system, which is a terrible scourge. In addition to jokes, the wave of these insects will spread on the FIFA World Cup. If the locusts fly to the green fields meant for games, then no one will be happy.
Do you think the state should take care of preserving the rural way of life?
- All world experience speaks about this. This is not just my reasoning. I have traveled around the world enough to understand that everywhere it is tried to preserve the rural way of life, the peasants are even paid to stay in the village and preserve landscapes. In order to have meadows, where lambs graze, goats run around so that people on the highway see this pastoral, and their mood would be completely different from what it is now when you look at the Russian province. It is possible to fall into depression from industrial landscapes and industrial zone, endless tire shops and construction sites.
Is it correct that you are now talking about the fact that our state is now betting on agroholdings, but does not think about and does not try to support farmers and small-scale households, right?
- Of course. The state holds in priority agroholdings, which, to be honest, have already played their part. As in 2000-2005 their rapid growth has begun, but somewhere in 2010 and further they already should be stopped in this growth. Existing should be remained, but it wasn't necessary to create new because they provided food independence to a large extent as they were the system organizations, but System independence on chicken, meat, pork and of course on grain. We even entered the world market to some extent. Grain is our undisputed priority in exporting products, everything else is still samples. It is still necessary to learn markets. But we must also understand that in Europe we are competing not with agroholdings, but with cooperative farms. These are giant farm cooperatives from different countries, including from the USA.
What are these farm cooperatives?
- These are the whole agglomerations of farms. One hundred or even three hundred thousand farmers in one cooperative. It is wrong to say that there are agroholdings in Europe. Moreover, they are legislatively forbidden. Nowhere is written that it is impossible to create an agroholding, but they are imposed with such taxes that they do not develop above certain territories, about 10-15% of the municipality’s territory. All the rest is laid over by the tax. We don’t have such conditions. Our priority in development of agroholdings, and as for small and average agrobusiness it is neglected. Though it is what keeps a rural way of life and that invests money in development of rural schools, hospitals and maternity hospitals, shops, etc. Agroholding will never be engaged in it.
And why the agroholding can't be engaged in it?
There is no need for agroholding to manage this. Absolutely not. Agroholding will rather build a hockey ground ostentatiously. Will knock the box and say: "That’s it, we have built." And that will be on all television channels. But not only the hockey ground the village lives. Also, the theater is needed, and a cinema, as well as school circles. Children need to be developed, and this requires appropriate conditions. There is no such place in our country, unfortunately. Therefore, on MEF I will be the moderator of one devoted to the development of rural areas section. And people have something to say. Both scientists and practices.
It would be desirable to return to a subject of cooperative economy in agriculture. You speak about the European examples. You mean the experience of Scandinavia?
Yes, this is the experience of Scandinavia. First of all, this is the experience of Denmark - a small country where there are more pigs than humans. And what is most characteristic - there is no African swine fever. Production there is at such a high level that no infection even simply slips onto the farm. Danish farmers became the founders of the largest cooperative Danish Crown, familiar to everyone thanks to oval cans with ham, which are opened with a key. Wonderful ham. We know about this ham since pre-war times. And now this cooperative Danish Crown is the world's largest producer of pork products. And this pork is made by members of the cooperative: in addition to the Danish, this includes Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Belgian and partly French farmers. The Germans are not very active to enter the cooperative, they have their own.
And what does this cooperative look like? What is different from our agroholdings?
- I was in this cooperative. Danish Crown is a fully automated giant complex. It looks like a huge industrial zone with glasses, where excursions are conducted. On the high catwalk through the windows you can see how the pig falls asleep with a smile under the laughing gas. And the only thing that visitors do not see is an autopsy of a pig. This can not be shown, and then you can see any process. That is, from one end you see a live pig, and from the other end you already see a jar of ham. Man does not touch meat at all. He cares only for cars. All is washed automatically. And here you go just like in such a technological palace, where you can simultaneously study physics, chemistry, mechanics. Very interesting.  Even children go there on excursions, businessmen and even more so. So the most curious thing is that this structure is very tightly controlled by the cooperative. The cooperative Danish Crown is not a legislator, but a dictator of technology.

What do you mean?
- It is at the forefront of the "producer-consumer" dialogue. The cooperative knows what the consumer needs. The most powerful marketers work there, who study the demand in detail and predict the change in tastes, give recommendations to farmers: up to how often to wash a pig, what to feed and what kind of breed it should be. In other words, it is a fairly structured organization. Even more structured than something totalitarian. If in totalitarian everything depends on the order, then here everything depends on the money. If you want to receive money, then you must do what is required of you. If you don’t want - you can not to do, but your pork won’t be bought then. That is the story. This is the highest level of the rural society self-organization, when the state recedes into the background and only regulates veterinary and trade rules to protect the rights of both buyers and producers.
So what do you think the state should do?
-State must solve the problem with loans. We know that there is a minus rate when the bank actually pays you to use its money. You can take money for 20 years with a loan rate of 0%, and this is perfectly normal. The fact is that the state is profitable. First, the number of jobs increases, and taxes are paid from each workplace. The state receives indirect revenues, which are much more than direct fiscal policy. And at times. This allows the developed state to build good roads, have high-quality medicine, keep a mobile army, a powerful fleet, a high-quality education and an elite culture in which money is invested.
Do just we study the experience of European countries? Maybe there are successful practices in individual regions?
- A good example is in the Novosibirsk region. There are representatives of the village administration who resist the development of agroholdings. They put up all sorts of obstacles for agroholdings and at the same time create the most favorable regime for farmers. If the representatives of this region have the opportunity to come, I will be very grateful.
What is the danger for villages in agroholdings? How is this manifested?
- The matter is that farm children study in the rural schools, so the farmers are ready to invest in local educational institutions. And the leaders of agroholdings are, as a rule, far from there, in Moscow, or in large cities with population over one million - the conditions of life on rural territories do not concern them at all. They view agriculture purely as a business, not as a way of life. It's unpleasant and insulting to ordinary people, and those who can not already resist, simply vote with their feet - they go to work as guards in the same megacities. But in the Novosibirsk the bills have been adopted region at the local level. The fact is that the head of this rural administration is rather authoritative person. So there is something to talk about: how to restrain the offensive of agroholdings through tax policy. And everything is civilized. Nobody needs to take anything away from anyone. No nationalization is offered. It is just necessary to make it the way it has been made in England.
And what exactly did England do and when?
- Progressive taxes have been introduced on certain over-the-rule land use areas. And the lend-lords themselves were looking for farmers to transfer this land for use and were ready to give it away cheaply. Farmers did not even have to stand in line. This must be done and done in a civilized way, without any revolutions. In England everything was cultural and peaceful. Of course, the preparation for this was conducted for about 35-40 years. Winston Churchill began this policy after the war. Do you know why he started it? The reason was, that at the beginning of the war in Germany, Britain practically did not have its own farmers. There were one landlords with hunting farms on foxes, deer. Or lords made recreational parks from their lands. And England imported food from the colonies: from India, South America, and Africa. And when the Hitlerites made a naval blockade of the islands, the famine actually came. It was then that the slogan "We will help a British farmer!" sounded, and all the lawns, including the lawn in front of Westminster Abbey, were dug under potatoes.
And what changed this case?
- It was the very moment when the enlightenment in the nation came, that it was better to support the farmer. Only your farmer will feed. Churchill, of course, was worth a lot of trouble, because in the end the country's leaders did not elect him again. It is clear that the lend-lords carried out certain operations against him. But the fact is that small farms and villages saved the nation. Also, when intelligence reported that the German bombers and missiles would bomb the big cities, Churchill then decided to move the children to the countryside. The fact is that this territory is very difficult to bomb: first, it is difficult to find these villages, and secondly, there is simply no economic expediency to bomb separate cowsheds. I know many families who were saved only because they moved to the village on time. On the contrary, Hitler's propaganda stated that it was absolutely impossible to move children to a village where they would perish from unsanitary conditions, etc. But the English prevailed common sense and hundreds of thousands of children were literally saved. After that, there was a bombing of Coventry, which demolished the city to its foundations. A very great tragedy, but the children were still alive. That's what a populated countryside is. The village must be populated. Now imagine the current situation, when large cities with over one million people are exposed to grandiose risks.
Can you elaborate on the risks involved?
- Imagine a terrorist attack on communications, anthropogenic catastrophe, an earthquake or, God forbid, a war ... Where do civilians have to go from megacities? Only in the countryside. But if it is not populated and there are no communications of gas, roads, telephone lines, electricity, running water, sewerage, then where to move? In the resettled huts? Of course not. The countryside must be populated and manned with all necessary communications, people must live there and produce something. And in order for them to produce something, the state must work.
And what prevents us from changing our policy on this issue in this case and whether the problem is only in supporting agroholdings?
- Since 1991, there has been a struggle between liberals and realists. People who are engaged in real economy, live on the ground and walk on the ground, struggle and in every possible way convince our liberal circles that it is not necessary to do so. And we must do this and that's it. I hope that now, at least, the young generation allows us to hope that some changes will begin soon. If we look even at the behavior of our current president Vladimir Putin, now he began to visit enterprises, which he used to treat with some irony.
Now you are talking about "Rostselmash", where the State Council recently took place?
- Yes, I'm talking about "Rostselmash" first of all. "Rostselmash" basically emerged from non-existence. He was completely destroyed, disintegrated and abandoned in fact. But a completely real team came, non-liberal, came the realists who made the venture. I remember the serious reproach made by President Putin against Konstantin Babkin (he developed and implemented Rostselmash's comprehensive strategic development program - editor's note) when he asked him: what prevents you from transferring your Canadian tractor production to Russia, how can you call yourself a patriot? It was said quite clearly and calmly that it is not profitable to produce tractors in Russia, because taxes and corruption will crush all production. Four years have passed since then and something has changed. Minister Manturov came, the program for subsidizing the purchase of tractors was made and it turned out to be profitable to produce. Apparently, something is changing after all. It changes for the better, but, unfortunately, very slowly.