Alina Osmakova is CEO at the Association “Technology Platform Bioindustry and Bioresources BioTech2030”, Russia’s leading expert organization in the field of biotechnology. In her interview to IAMO, she talks about Russia’s potential for building bioeconomy and outlines the main challenges along the way.
IAMO: Ms. Osmakova, you head Technology Platform BioTech 2030, Russia’s leading expert organization driving the national development of bioeconomy. Could you provide examples of effective policies that enable the transition to bioeconomy in the agri-food sector of Russia, in particular, the reforms or policies supported by BioTech 2030?
The agricultural industry is a strategically important part of the Russian economy. Not only does it directly ensure the state food security, but also contributes to development of internal and export markets. Modern farming is distancing from traditional concept of rural life becoming a platform for diverse range of innovations. Russian authorities know about those changes and respond to them supporting the industry both by creating development strategies and by state budget financial investments.
I would like to mention some of the most important documents that have been adopted recently in Russia. These are:
- Russian Federation scientific and technological development strategy (approved in 2016),
- Russian Federation farming scientific and technological development forecast for the period up to 2030 (approved in 2017),
- Federal scientific and technical program for the agriculture development for 2017-2025 (approved in 2017),
- Russian Federation economic security strategy for the period until 2030 (approved in 2017).
In fact, governmental support of new projects and agro-innovations in Russia can be a subject of really long conversation. For example, right now the Foodnet roadmap is being developed. That document should become the further step to expand the range of smart services and products on the Russian food market by 2035.
IAMO: In your opinion, what are the main prerequisites for a successful transition to bioeconomy in Russia? What are the major challenges and potential risks on the way ahead?
If we describe bioeconomy as a global transition to a new technological order, then we, as a country, are only on the start of the path to this goal. Russia has gone through a long period of industrial stagnation and even degradation. Industrial biotechnology, which was one of the priority scientific and technological areas in the USSR, was completely abandoned for almost 20 years. That caused a significant technological and production gap between Russian and global biotechnology.
Consequently, the Russian biotechnology market stands significantly behind the global one. At the same time, many farm sectors in Russia are extremely conservative, which makes innovations something difficult to implement. Furthermore, Russia is a country that has always been rich in natural resources. As long as we have plenty of oil and gas, it will be hard to find the audience to listen out for ideas about replacing hydrocarbons with renewable energy.
But, of course, authorities in Russia realize the future belongs to biotech. In some areas significant progress was already achieved. There are both failures and successes. Having the «old school» helps. In the USSR, level of biotechnology science was on a par or even ahead the one in Europe and the USA. And there are still great collections of genetic and biological material, for example, a plant seeds collection (with more than 250 thousand breeds) in Russia. Also, we have many big scientific and educational centers.
What is also important, if we look at Russian market conditions, nowadays there are large agro-companies that able to introduce new technologies within a short time. There is a formed business community in Russia, which makes the creation of business clusters far easier. Let's not forget about environmental assets. Russia is rich in land and fresh water. Finally, thanks to the strict policy of GMO usage control in Russia, our country today is a potential producer of bio-products.
IAMO: Russia is the richest forest country in the world and ranks third in terms of arable land. How does the wealth in land and forest resources affect the implementation of innovations, for example renewable energy solutions, among agri-food producers in today’s Russia? In which sectors of the agri-food industry are these innovations mainly implemented or a particularly urgent need?
High availability of natural resources in Russia can be a two-sided coin. On the one hand, resources wealth is an undeniable competitive advantage. Croplands and forests serve as raw material base for processing and production. Do not forget that the agriculture sub-sectors are constantly rival for croplands: if you grow feed crops somewhere, you can’t grow the food on the same areas. Wood-based waste, in their turn, is also a valuable biotechnology resource. It serves as a source of solid and liquid biofuels.
On the other hand, the abundance of resources is a barrier to the resource-saving technologies. Why should we increase productivity if production can be raised by increasing agricultural areas? Of course, for this reason, one of the important tasks for us is to popularize the sustainability ideas.
I need to add that management of such vast farmland areas brings specific technological challenges for Russia. To effectively manage farming we have, it is necessary to digitalize and automate it. Unfortunately, it is not easy to do, because typical Russian farm is an extremely large agricultural company, managing hundreds of thousands of hectares of land. Another critical problem is the agricultural waste accumulation. We clearly understand that competent waste management, soil and water cleaning are not a luxury, but a necessity for us.
Finally, a large country needs to be fed, and fed with quality food. Most regions of Russia are iodine and vitamin D deficient. Whereas, the Russian vitamin market is full of imported products. And this is just one of the many issues that makes food biotechnology one of the priority areas in Russia.
Thank you for your time.