Working with Western money and technology, farmers in Russia -- home to 1/7th of the world's land -- have tripled the grain yield from former collective farms.
Russia: The World’s New Breadbasket?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
We are back with NBC News IN DEPTH tonight. The financial crisis has been getting all of the attention, including ours, lately. But in the meantime, the world continues to come up short on food. One nation, in particular, can play a big role in easing the food crisis for the globe, but the question is, will it? With the latest in our series of reports called AGAINST THE GRAIN, here is NBC's Jim Maceda.
JIM MACEDA reporting:
Rich Russian soil as far as the eye can see. For many food experts, this could be the world's next bread basket. Russian farmer Sergei Orhov already thinks so. `Sunflowers, corn,,wheat, whatever you want, it grows here,' he says. And Russia has one-seventh of the planet's fertile land.
Andrei Zayarny, an agribusinessman, sees plenty of opportunity to feed Russia and ease the food crisis elsewhere.
Mr. ANDREI ZAYARNY: Some countries in the world has a problem with food, and our company can help.
MACEDA: That company, Black Earth Farming, was just an experiment three years ago. The idea? Pumping Western money and technology into dozens of former collective farms, broken up and left unused since the collapse of communism in 1991.
Ms. MARINA ROMANOVA: Most of our land was fallow and, can you imagine, 15 years, nothing was happened on that land.
MACEDA: But from nothing, Black Earth, whose farms are now almost the size of Rhode Island, turned a $6 million profit this year on the Russian market. The company replaced old Soviet combines with American state-of-the-art gear, tripling grain use.
Ms. NATASHA ZAGVOZDINA (Renaissance Capital, Moscow): We do believe that Russia can save the world because the domestic consumption of grain is growing but not even close to the surplus of grain that Russia is producing.
MACEDA: Enough to feed millions abroad. But there's a catch and potentially big risk. This is, after all, Russia, where the Kremlin has a long track record of taking key resources, like its vast reserves of oils and natural gas, and turning them into strategic political weapons. There are already ominous signs. Some in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's cabinet want more control, calling for a review of all foreign investment in farming.
Mr. LESTER BROWN (Earth Policy Institute): The Russians are now sort of seized with the potential of their control of key resources--oil, natural gas, increasingly grain--to use that to achieve their foreign policy goals.
MACEDA: There is even talk of a Soviet-style trading company that could worsen the food crisis if the Kremlin starts muscle-flexing with grain.
Ms. TANYA COSTELLO (Eurasia Group, London): If Russia chooses to keep grain off the market, this would certainly push prices up and could have a very negative impact.
MACEDA: But for now, grain and profits are flowing, harvesting a food bonanza that may not get to the world's hungry. Jim Maceda, NBC News, Kursk, Russia.
Mike Zelkind stands at one end of what was once a shipping container and opens the door to the future.
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