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The Agribusiness Sector Strategy was approved by the EBRD board on 6th July 2010.
Since the last Operations Policy (approved by the Board in 2002) significant positive developments have materialized in the sector. These include inter alia the emergence of strong local players throughout the value chain; a retail revolution that has greatly improved the quality and format of retail operations; progress in reducing tariffs and trade barriers under the aegis of the World Trade Organisation and an increasing awareness of sustainability issues.
Primary agriculture yields have improved as a result of higher investment and better integrated agri-industrial companies and their expanding use of modern agricultural practices and machinery. In recent years, the region has moved from being a net importer to a net exporter of certain agricultural commodities and a notable contributor to international supply. Russia, for example, has moved into the top five grain exporters globally while it was previously a large importer of grain.
The recent world food crisis had a significant impact on the region, which translated into record price increases in the first half of 2008 and affected nearly all food commodities. Two divergent consequences were visible: on the one hand, higher prices provided the sector an opportunity to expand production. A rush on land occurred, as demand and prices for primary agricultural commodities rose.
On the other hand, retail prices for basic foodstuffs like bread, milk and butter rose, and vulnerable groups were worst affected. Food still accounts for a major part of the typical consumer basket of goods in the region: it comprises 40% in Russia, over 50% in Ukraine and even in countries like Romania, still over 40%.
Government responses to the food crisis included interventions aimed at bringing down these price increases. Export bans and price controls, implemented in for example Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Serbia count amongst these measures, which ultimately damaged profitability, reduced investment and hence decreased supply.
Prices have since fallen from their 2008 peak but any benefits from falling world cereal prices have been more than offset by the global economic downturn. This second crisis created a new set of challenges, including inter alia severely restricted financing for the sector, much higher re-financing risks and large exposure to hard currency denominated debt.
The fact that food supply disruptions were increasing even before the food crisis suggests that markets are not functioning correctly and that the fundamental challenges in the Agribusiness sector remain.
In the transition region these supply disruptions are partially rooted in the collectivisation of land and agricultural assets and the absence of pricing mechanisms along the food value chain.
The UN FAO estimates a need for an additional 30 million hectares of agricultural land worldwide by 2017. FAO estimates that 1.02 billion people were under-nourished worldwide in 2009. This represents more hungry people than at any time since 1970 and a worsening of the unsatisfactory trends that were present even before the economic crisis.
The region could provide part of the solution. For example, combined EBRD/UN FAO research shows that Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine alone could quickly increase their arable land under production by returning to use 13 million hectares of land that has not been used since the early 1990s.
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Last updated 29 April 2010