Aleksandr Lukashenko attends nationwide harvest festival Dazhynki 2013

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The progressive agricultural industry guarantees food security of the country and accounts for a huge share of Belarus’ exports, President of the republic of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the nationwide harvest festival Dazhynki 2013 on 28 Seprember.

The head of state stressed that according to a good tradition, the festival concludes the harvesting campaign in the country. "Seventeen years ago when reviving Dazhynki we meant not only to preserve the old traditions but also to give them a new lease of life. Today, the highlight of the festival is the honoring of the best farmers who by their hard work, skills and selfless labor produce the Belarusian gold which is called bread,” he said.

In his words, the modern Dazhynki is not only a holiday but also an important social project. It enhances the prestige of farming profession, draws attention of young people to agriculture. The winners of the current harvest festival are the real heroes of our time: these are successful people who set an example to the younger generation,” the President believes.

Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined that every year one of the Belarusian towns is chosen as the host of the festival and the whole country helps it address many vital issues and become a decent host. Zhlobin, this year’s host, has undergone major changes in a short period of time. More than 300 objects were built and renovated. Houses and streets were spruced up; the railway linking the town with Minsk was electrified.

Aleksandr Lukashenko praised the residents of Zhlobin for getting prepared for the festival in such a short time.

"What we see today in Zhlobin confirms the established truth that lies at the heart of our policy: if we work harder we will live a better life," Aleksandr Lukashenko noted. “The progressive and dynamically developing agricultural industry guarantees food security of the country and accounts for a huge share of Belarus’ exports,” the head of state said.

According to the President, agriculture play a crucial role in sustainable economic development and the state’s independence.

Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that some twenty years ago there were food tokens and empty counters in the country, now Belarus enjoys an abundance of foodstuffs; Belarus’ export of agricultural products is now estimated at $5 billion. Sovereign Belarus, like no other CIS member state, has established a reliable foundation for the agribusiness, the President said. Belarus has powerful enterprises producing tractors, vehicles, farm machines, fertilizers. These companies meet the domestic demand and actively promote their products on the international market.

According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, thanks to the consistent policy to revive and promote rural communities, the country managed to avoid major mistakes while developing its agribusiness. Belarus preserved big companies that are a backbone of progressive development in agriculture. Belarus made smart investments into the upgrade of the physical infrastructure of agricultural companies and improvement of the social infrastructure in rural communities. Belarus managed to support hard-working farmers, bring highly qualified specialists to rural communities and encourage them to stay there. The notion “battle for the harvest” is no longer relevant. The major agricultural events – sowing and harvesting – proceed normally and as planned, without ‘firefighting’.

Technology intensive manufacturing facilities are the basis of the domestic cattle-breeding industry. Since 2005, over 440 dairy farms have been constructed and about 2,000 have been renovated.

The head of state said that the achievements of the agricultural industry are obvious. For a number of years Belarus has been leading the CIS in terms of per capita production of major agricultural products, while in grain production Belarus is on par with Ukraine and Kazakhstan that are among the major crop producers in the region. Belarus has approached Germany in terms of meat production and is far ahead of developed European countries in terms of milk production. The relatively small country is in the top five in the world for dairy exports.

Praising the achievements of the Belarusian farmers, the head of state noted that they are expected to produce even higher results. “It would be wrong for me to say that what we have achieved is enough. Costs in the agricultural industry are the main problem we should deal with. If we do not reduce costs in the next two years we will have a lot of problems here,” the President said.

In his words, the Belarusian agricultural industry maintains a focus on grain crops. The experience of passed years has shown that provided favorable weather conditions, agricultural companies are able to harvest ten million tonnes of crops. “A task was step to stick to this target. I will be honest: we have not succeeded. The grain yield shrank in all the regions this year, therefore the gross grain yield is expected to make up about nine million tonnes (including corn),” the President said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that the protracted winter, late sowing and other challenges related to nature are not an excuse. After all, volatility and unpredictability of weather is a norm for our agribusiness and one should be prepared for this.

The head of state emphasized the need for regional specialization in agriculture and adaptive technologies that will help increase the potential of crops both during rains and droughts. There are successful examples of withstanding adverse weather conditions in Belarus. This year, which was not the easiest one in the country, 120 companies harvested more than 50 centners per hectare and 44 companies harvested over 60 centners per hectare.

The President also said that not only weather conditions, but managerial and technological failures are to blame for a low yield. “Often professionalism and managerial skills of company chiefs and administrators determine the efficiency of agricultural production,” the head of state believes.

“Despite weather conditions and other challenges, the expected gross yield of grain crops will fully satisfy the domestic demand for bread grain and feed grain, including wheat and malting barley,” the head of state remarked.

While choosing the winning region, the following criteria were taken into consideration: performance, yield, and development of the social infrastructure. This year Brest Oblast was an absolute winner. The region owes this title largely to efficient management in agriculture. The President praised the achievements of other regions. Just like in the previous years, all the regions harvested over one million tonnes of grain crops (including corn). Addressing the governors, the President noted that the achievements can and should be more impressive. Ten million tonnes of grain is an absolutely reasonable target.

“With a view to stimulating the agricultural industry even more, we might consider using financial and economic indicators to choose winners of the nationwide harvest contest among regions, districts and agricultural companies,” the head of state said. In his words, time necessitates changes. Thus, profit should be used as the major criteria to assess the performance of the agribusiness.

Dazhynki is not only a harvest fest but also a chance to talk about the future of our agrarian industry. Building up plans for next year, we all should take into account the present-day conditions, including Belarus’ participation in the Single Economic Space, the world market trends including Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization,” the President noted.

“Economic management mechanisms which were developed during the country’s rural revival stage and which secured growth in bulk agricultural production need to be adjusted today. It is vital not only to produce but also be able to sell, gain profits and strengthen the economy of agricultural organizations. We have learnt how to work efficiently. Now we need to learn how to sell products at a good price,” the head of state believes.

In his words, the state invests almost $2 billion in the agrarian sector every year. The President stressed that in the future such support will be targeted, only for agricultural development programs and quick-yielding projects.

“Today’s task for agrarians is to learn to work on self-financing and profit-making principles,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “We need to enhance the efficiency of using natural, material and labor resources with focus on innovations and technology. We need to continue optimization of agrarian organizations turning them gradually into big holding companies. It should become an ABC for all agrarian managers,” the head of state said. The Council of Ministers has been instructed to improve economic management mechanisms in the agricultural sector by the end of the year.

Aleksandr Lukashenko presented awards to winners of the 2013 nationwide harvesting competition. The winners received cars and money prizes.

Aleksandr Lukashenko took part in the inauguration of the electrified railway section between Osipovichi and Zhlobin.

The President was informed about the completion of the work to electrify the railway section and plans to electrify other parts of the Belarusian railways for the period until 2020. Electrification will enhance the transit appeal of international transport corridors passing via the territory of Belarus and help reduce operating costs and the prime cost of transportation.

The inauguration of the Osipovichi-Zhlobin section marks the completion of the first phase of the investment project of Belarusian Railways “Electrification of the Gomel-Zhlobin-Osipovichi section and the Zhlobin-Kalinkovichi section”.

Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to the need to maximize the localization of railway equipment production. This applies in particular to the joint project with the Swiss company Stadler Rail Group.

The President inquired about the status of implementation of the project to establish a passenger rail link between the capital city and Minsk National Airport. Minister of Transport and Communications Anatoly Sivak reported that the creation of a separate direct passenger line does not make economic sense as the passenger traffic is relatively small. However, the use of the existing railway infrastructure with the construction of a link to the airport seems viable. The railway journey will increase by just 10-15 minutes.

Aleksandr Lukashenko also got familiar with the socio-economic development of Zhlobin and Zhlobin District, visited new facilities. One of them is the multi-purpose sports hall, where the head of state attended a match between youth volleyball teams. In addition, the President was briefed on the progress in the construction of the hotel compound "Dnieper Pearl".

The President also answered a number of reporters’ questions.

Te head of state was asked about the development prospects of the Fazhynki harvest festival.

Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that Dazhynki could become a tourist brand of Belarus.

“I would be happy to see it. And we can hardly find a person speaking against it. It would be really great,” the head of state noted.

According to the President, today Dazhynki welcomes some guests from abroad. Yet there are not many of them. “It would be great if we could make the festival so big as to welcome people from all over the world,” the President said.

The Belarusian leader said that visitors always have good impressions about Dazhynki. The President believes that the festival could attract Belarusians living abroad and also the people of the neighboring countries, Slavonic states.

“In one word, there is a lot to think about. It is worth working in this direction,” the President concluded.

When asked what should be done to propel the agricultural industry to a brand-new level, the head of state said that agriculture should become a self-sufficient industry in Belarus.

The President stressed that a lot has already been done for the agriculture industry in Belarus. “Every year we invest up to $2 billion in agriculture. All in all, we have invested about $50 billion in agriculture in recent years.”

“Therefore, the farmers should take the next step. Today the farmers are expected to manufacture more products at lower costs. This is the most important thing. If we fail to reduce the production cost in agriculture, we will be unable to compete, even on the domestic market,” the Belarusian President remarked.

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the state will provide support to some projects. “But there will be no all-round support as it was before. This is not only because Russia joined the WTO or because we have undertaken some obligations in the Customs Union. The point is that agriculture must be a self-sufficient industry,” the President said.

According to the President, it is very important to learn to trade in manufactured products. "Of course, those who are engaged in this trade have become more sophisticated. They have learned a lot. This has been helped by the establishment of large meat and dairy companies. They advance to the new markets. But the most important thing is that this process is regulated in such a way so that these companies would not compete with each other, for example, in the Russian market,” the Belarusian head of state said.

“Yet the most important thing for the country in general and agriculture in particular is to learn to trade, to sell products and get a profit,” Aleksandr Lukashenko believes.

Journalists asked the President about the situation in the monetary sphere. They also asked his to comment on rumors about possible devaluation of the Belarusian ruble.

“The devaluation of the national currency is not on the agenda today at all. Why would we devaluate the national currency?! No leader would ever want to do it. On the opposite, we need to avoid it,” the President said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded that he had announced earlier that he will not artificially maintain the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble and other currencies.

The President noted that this issue is entirely in the hands of companies and people. “If you scour from one exchange booth to another from morning till night buying out foreign currency, if companies and banks dream about the devaluation, someone will benefit from it, some expectations will emerge, while our rascals, nationalists will make a drama about all over mass media heating tensions among people; and you will listen to them and rush to exchange booths – you can do whatever you want, but this will mean that you will be to blame for weakening the national currency,” the head of state said.

“If there is a big demand for foreign currency, we will devaluate the Belarusian ruble, if not, things will proceed normally and we will find a way out,” he added.

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the state will use all the available instruments to prevent sharp fluctuations of the exchange rate. “The National Bank will certainly intervene to smoothen them out. In the event of a slump, we will support our currency, in case of a sharp increase in foreign currency supply the National Bank will buy it out. There were such periods in the past,” the President said. In his words, since the beginning of the year the amount of foreign currency bought by people exceeded the sale by $150-200 million. “In recent months our people have been buying foreign currency even more zealously. Go ahead if you want. We have already learnt our lesson. I would like to reiterate: the future of the currency market depends on you,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko admitted that it was hard to control the currency market, especially after the potash industry reduced the output. “You know that the economic situation was not easy. The global crisis is raging, you know what is going on in the entire world,” the President said. He noted that companies have recently started generating more foreign currency than in the summer. “This is encouraging. However, we should not be complacent,” Aleksandr Lukashenko believes.

The President commented on his recent statement about possible introduction of departure fees for Belarusians.

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the departure fee for Belarusians was suggested as a possible measure to reduce the outflow of the foreign currency.

“I am not an advocate of departure restrictions. I am just concerned that about $3 billion is taken out of the country annually,” the head of state said.

"But this is a serious issue. We have this currency problem. Do you know how much currency our shuttle traders take out of the country? Border guards have calculated: something around $2 billion. If this money stayed in the country we would live differently,” the head of state said.

“They say: offer us the same quality as in the West and we will buy these clothes. In my opinion, we have good local clothing brands, and the choice is nice. Yet, many buy dollars or euros here, relatively inexpensively, and go shopping abroad taking this currency out,” the President said. Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined that he is concerned that in this way the Belarusians support the economy of the European Union.

“Therefore, I say that we should look for some mechanisms, as other states do. Ok, we will not levy $100, but if you bring clothes into the country from abroad please pay a fee, as it is done in other states. This is a normal, civilized way,” the President noted. He added that the government is looking into this issue on his instructions.

At the same time the head of state noted that local clothing manufacturers should work harder to increase customer satisfaction so that people will no longer want to go shopping abroad.

“These measures are temporary, if they are ever implemented at all,” the head of state emphasized.

“This possible measure stirred public outcry. Lukashenko got scolded a bit for that. This is not bad either, I should keep in good shape. But we all need to calm down. We have never worked against people and never will. We will look into the reasons and choose the best option,” the President said.

Journalists asked the head of state to comment on the speculations in some media that Vladislav Baumgertner was allowed to swap prison for house arrest specifically for Putin's visit. “There was a meeting with Putin a week ago too, and no one was released then. The speculations are designed to hurt me, or probably someone else,” the Belarusian leader said.

“With regard to the prisoner, he and his supporters have his mother to thank. She sent me a letter three or four days ago. She, as I was reported, came here and asked to mitigate the punishment. I did not give orders. I expressed my opinion. I said that it was the investigators who hold sway over this decision. But I said that I did not mind if they mitigated the punishment,” the President said.

“The investigators looked into this issue independently and found it possible to move him to house arrest. He pays for the apartment and all the services. He is not a poor person. Such was the condition. He was released under the guarantees of his mother. His mother stays with him, and is looking after her son. I think she is a very kind and nice person,” the President stressed.

“So he has his mother to thank. Not Lukashenko or Putin, or Medvedev,” the President emphasized.

Speaking about the situation in the potash industry, the President said: "The situation is getting back to normal, even without their involvement. I have been approached by the people who want to buy potash fertilizers from Belarus.” According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the quality of the Belarusian potash fertilizers is much better than that of the fertilizers produced by the Russian company, but the most important thing is that everyone wants to deal with a trusted partner. "Ours is a state-owned organization. Its reputation is solid. We have been trading well and will continue to do so in the future. The Russians will come back to us,” the President said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stated that the potash issue was addressed during his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "We did not raise this issue as a separate problem. We touched upon this topic during the flight to Kaliningrad. I said that they will come back to us, to our company. Vladimir Putin responded that he does not rule this out. Uralkali is changing owners. Many are bidding to buy this asset,” the Belarusian head of state said.

"Potential buyers have already signaled that they will be back with us in a little while,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“Only an idiot can work to his own disbenefit. Our re-merger with the Russian company will raise the prices for potash fertilizers. Our separation will definitely bring the prices down,” the Belarusian head of state stressed.

“But the main thing is that no one is allowed to wipe the floor with us. We are a sovereign independent state and we will be protecting our interests,” Aleksandr Lukashenko concluded.