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The new potato king: Russia’s exports of tubers skyrocket

According to EastFruit analysts, in 2020, Russia’s commercial potatoes exports continued to grow very fast. While in 2019 Russia was the 11th largest potato exporter, in 2020 it could be among top-10 for the first time in history. Let’s us note that in the past, Russia was one of the largest global importers of potatoes but situation is changing very rapidly.

EastFruit noted that Russia’s potato exports to Central Asian countries  in 2020 were growing especially fast. Shipments to Uzbekistan increased tremendously – by almost 2 thousand times. In the first nine months of 2020, Uzbekistan bought 65.2 thousand tons of potatoes from Russia, trying to maintain the country’s food security during the coronavirus pandemic. 

During the same period, other countries of the region also largely increased their purchases of Russian potatoes: Turkmenistan (almost 800 times to 16 thousand tons), Tajikistan (900 times to 5.4 thousand tons), Kazakhstan (by 65% ​​to 3.6 thousand tons), and Kyrgyzstan, which has not previously imported potatoes from Russia.

“Central Asia remains a net importer of potatoes due to the difficult climatic conditions for growing quality seed potatoes in most countries of the region. Therefore, producers have to either import expensive seed potatoes from Russia and the EU or put up with the low productivity and quality of the potatoes grown locally. By the way, the import of seed potatoes, given the long distances, is expensive, which pushes the prices for commercial potatoes grown in these countries further up,” explains Andrii Yarmak, an economist at the Investment department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Read also: Ukraine started importing potatoes from Poland

“Potato consumption in this region remains very high, despite its relatively high cost. Besides, for a long time, the countries of the region made good money on the export of early potatoes in spring, sold mainly to the Russian market. At that time, as stocks shrunk, prices for potatoes rose rapidly, and it was possible to get a higher price for early potatoes. However, with the development of potato storage capacities in Russia and the improvement of potato growing technologies, the need to import early potatoes from Central Asian countries started decreasing. This has a negative impact on the overall development of the region’s potato business,” FAO expert explained.

To cope with its dependence from potato imports, Uzbekistan even took such unpopular measures as fines for those who don’t use the available land to grow potatoes and vegetables. Besides, the government planned to provide subsidies for storing potatoes and even temporarily intended to stimulate imports by cancelling VAT to enter winter 2020 with sufficient potato stocks. 

In general, Uzbekistan’s plans are very ambitious – namely, to completely stop buying potatoes from abroad. However, these plans look good on paper, but in reality, they seem to be a big challenge. Therefore, most likely, Uzbekistan will remain a large sales market for imported (primarily Russian) potatoes in the coming years.

In addition to the countries of Central Asia, in 2020, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and Georgia also increased their imports of potatoes from Russia. In contrast, Azerbaijan and Serbia bought less. In Serbia, there was an oversupply of cheaper potatoes from the EU. This country faced a sharp decline in processing potatoes into French fries as many restaurants and hotels closed because of Covid-19 pandemic.

EastFruit

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