Putin and the Current Russian Economy

In Search of Putin’s Russia – Part 2 Arising from the Ruble

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

In the second episode of In Search of Putin’s Russia, Russian journalist filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov examines Russia’s 2014 economic crisis, which he blames on falling oil prices and US and EU sanctions.

Overall he feels the sanctions (and more importantly Russian counter sanctions) have helped strengthen Russia’s domestic food and industrial production. At the same time the sanctions have hurt many ordinary Russians, in part due to really low salaries. For example, the average Russian teacher earns $300 a month.

The drop in the value of the ruble has led to many home foreclosures. Ever since the Soviet collapse, Russian banks only issue mortgages in foreign currencies. Because Russians are paid in rubles, they could no longer keep up with payments when the value of the ruble dropped 40% in 2014.

Access to health care is also a major issue owing to the collapse of the state-run Soviet health care system. This is especially true in rural areas where people are too poor to pay privately for care.

Most health care funding seems to come from charities, which also raise funds to keep children out of orphanages when their parents are too poor to provide for them. Russia’s current economic crisis has placed a growing number of families in this predicament.

 

 

Alternatives to Industrial Farming

Unbroken Ground: Revolutions Start at the Bottom

Directed by Chris Malloy (2016)

Film Review

Unbroken Ground is about three revolutionary innovations in food production (regenerative agriculture, regenerating grazing and restorative fishing) aimed at increasing long term food security by working with natural processes.

Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is aimed at restoring and preserving topsoil by moving away from corporate monoculture of annual plants. The goal is to support farmers in raising a diversity of perennial staple crops.

At present annual grains (mainly wheat) comprise 70% of the global diet. Plowing topsoil under every year rapidly degrades soil fertility by killing the delicate microorganisms plants depend on for basic nutrients. Dedicating fields to a single monoculture annual hasten this process, necessitating the increasing use of chemical fertilizers and toxic herbicides and pesticides.

The filmmakers visit a group of scientists attempting to develop a perennial variety of wheat by cross breeding it with perennial grasses.

Regenerative grazing

The regenerative grazing movement is restoring the American Great Plains by reintroducing buffalo, the indigenous animals who co-evolved with the native grasses that grow there. Buffalo are 100% grass fed but unlike beef cattle, they don’t kill the grass by eating it down to ground level.

Studies show the animals also significantly increase CO2 sequestration (capture and storage – see The Soil Solution to Climate Change) in areas where they have been introduced.

Restorative Fishing

Restorative fishing uses ancient Native American fishing techniques to enable fishermen to catch their target fish and release non-targeted species back to the ocean unharmed. The process involves creating an artificial reef with nets and plastic strips. The false reef fools the fish into swimming more shallowly, enabling easy capture without harming their gills.

The Vanishing Farmer

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The US Farm Crisis

Americans rarely give much thought to where their food comes from. They should. Rapidly expanding cities mean the US loses two acres of fertile farmland every two minutes. The dwindling number of US farmers – now at 1.5 million – is even more concerning. At present the average American farmer is over 60 – only 5% of them are under 45.

The US government has been desperately trying to recruit more formers since 1992, when they first introduced a special loan program for beginning farmers. Owing to poor uptake, the 2008 Farm Bill greatly expanded the loan program, as well as introducing educational assistance and special training programs, commodities payments, conservation payments and crop insurance subsidies to new farmers. These programs were expanded even further in 2010, when US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced his goal of recruiting 100,000 new farmers in five years.

Corporate Welfare for Factory Farms

Although the number of loans to beginning farmers increased from 9,000 in 2008 to more than 15,000 in 2012, there’s growing skepticism about other aspects of the program, which clearly benefit large corporate players –  factory farms and the private insurance companies that sell crop insurance – more than small farmers. Last week, GMO and pesticide manufacturer Monsanto bought into the crop insurance racket when they acquired ClimateCorp, a San Francisco based company that employs complex weather data to set prices for its crop insurance policies. At the same time property development and speculation, which poses the most immediate threat to productive farmland, remains unaddressed.

Young Farmers are Pro-Organic and Anti-GMO

According to Reuters, the organic and healthy food movements have also been instrumental in inspiring urban youth in returning to the land, where they are supported by a number of national and state nonprofit organizations.

Greenhorns, a national membership organization of 6,000+, is one of the largest and most active. Founded in 2007, the group works to promote, recruit and support young US farmers by putting on events and workshops, networking, resource sharing, and the production of traditional and new media: radio, documentary film, blog, a book of essays, guidebooks, web-based tools. Their primary goals are to “retrofit” the corporate food system by building a thriving agricultural economy, based on solid business skills and sustainable farm practices.

Their website offers a phenomenal range of resources, with links to

  • Jobs
  • Agricultural training courses
  • Mentoring opportunities
  • Low cost food processing facilities
  • Core consumer groups wishing to start Community Supported Agriculture schemes*
  • Market managers seeking new producers
  • Marketing advice/assistance
  • Land for sale and lease
  • Legal services
  • Grants
  • Crowdfunding and community based fundraising opportunities
  • Political action groups

I was especially intrigued by the Greenhorns new documentary and their 2013 New Farmers Almanac. The latter is a new twist on the classic Old Farmers Almanac. Designed to appeal to healthy food advocates as well as farmers of all ages, it presents a collection of essays about adjusting to large scale urbanization and the mega population boom, as well as reclaiming a landscape dominated by monoculture, soil depletion. Available in paperback for $20 from AK Press

Here’s the trailer to the documentary, which can be purchased for $10 from their website:

*In Community Supported Agriculture schemes (CSAs) consumers subsidize a local farm by purchasing a subscription to weekly deliveries of fresh vegetables and/or fruit.