Hunger in Russia
Although coverage on Russia often dominates the American news cycle, people give little attention to the prevalence of poverty in the country. Many Russians live in unacceptably impoverished conditions and face food insecurity. Hunger in Russia is on a downward trend and both NGOs and the government are undergoing concerted efforts to address both poverty and food insecurity in the country.

10 Facts About Hunger in Russia

  1. Poverty Rate: Although the rate of extreme poverty in Russia—those living under the international poverty line of $1.90 a day—is at zero percent, 13.2 percent or 19 million Russians live in poverty under the national definition of $12.80 a day. This is a contested figure, however, as some claim that the poverty rate is as high as 14.3 percent.

  2. Poverty and Hunger: Poverty is the primary factor behind hunger in Russia. Other than those living in dire poverty, most of the population consumes over 2,100 calories daily—well above the 1,900 calories a day guideline that the Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations (FAO) set. Those with higher incomes in Russia ingest over 3,000 calories a day, similar to those living in developed nations.

  3. Food Insecurity: People with disabilities, older people with little sources of income and families with children are some of the populations who face the most food insecurity in Russia. Another population that often faces food insecurity is people with HIV and those who inject drugs (PWIJ) and these make up an estimated 2.3 percent of the population. The irregular schedule and often low socioeconomic status of PWIJ means they often face hunger and malnutrition.

  4. Rising Food Costs: In 2016, the average Russian consumer spent 50.1 percent of their income on food—the highest percentage in almost a decade. This was due to the Russian government introducing embargos on many food exports from Western countries as retaliation for sanctions in 2014. Consequently, food costs spiked for consumers. Since 2014, the price of frozen fish has increased by 68 percent and the prices of butter and white cabbage have respectively risen by 79 percent and 62 percent.

  5. Global Hunger Index Rate: Despite these increases, in 2019, the Global Hunger Index gave Russia a score of 5.8, which qualifies as a low level of hunger. This number is representative of statistics which reveal that less than 2.5 percent of the overall population suffers from undernourishment. This is a dramatic decrease from 2000 when the nation had a GHI score of 10.3 or a moderate level of hunger: 5.1 percent of the population lacked nourishment. This level of undernourishment was the result of a struggling economy still reeling from the demise of the Soviet Union. In fact, from 1999-2000, more global food aid went to Russia than Africa. Since then, however, the macroeconomic conditions in Russia have largely improved resulting in higher incomes that allow consumers to afford food. This trend is also evident in the statistics for wasting and stunting in children under 5: in 2000, those percentages were 4.6 and 16.1 percent respectively, whereas in 2019 they are 3.9 and 10.7 percent.

  6. Growing Food: While the skyrocketing high food costs do pose a risk to Russia’s future GHI index score, both urban and rural Russian families are turning to their own backyards to produce their food. In 2016, approximately 25 percent of Russians relied on fruits and vegetables harvested in their own backyards. This is a continuation of a tradition dating back to the mid-20th century where Russians would combat food shortages under a communist regime by quietly supplying their own food.

  7. Obesity: While the rates of hunger in Russia decreased over the past two decades, the percentage of obese people increased. In 2015, almost 60 percent of the adult population was overweight and 26.5 percent obese. These numbers strongly correlate with socioeconomic status and education levels. Studies suggest that this is the result of a diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in dairy, meat, sugar and alcohol. Experts suggest that just decreasing food prices for healthier foods—such as fruits and vegetables—will not be enough to combat obesity. Instead, there must also be a robust public health program.

  8. Declaration to Halve Poverty: However, there is also good news. As previously mentioned, poverty is the primary cause of hunger in Russia and, on May 7, 2018, a Decree of the President declared an initiative to halve poverty by 2024. Russia plans on achieving this goal through a stimulus plan worth $400 billion that builds new infrastructure and invests in research. While some are pessimistic about Russia’s ability to meet this target, economists at the Brookings Institute believe that even with an annual GDP growth rate of 1.5 percent—a conservative target—through increasing the efficiency of existing social assistance programs and dedicating slightly more funds towards poverty reduction, this ambitious goal is possible.

  9. Investing in Agriculture: Furthermore, over the past decade, the Russian government has also heavily invested in promoting nationwide agricultural self-sufficiency. The Russian government is committing itself to eventually self-supplying 80 to 90 percent of most foods. In order to achieve this target, the country is now subsidizing large farms. The agricultural sector grew by 5 percent in 2016 and 2.4 percent in 2017. People will eventually see the long term impact of these policies on hunger in Russia and whether this investment can lower the costs of food for everyday people and lower the rates of hunger in Russia.

  10. SOS Children’s Village: There are also a variety of organizations working towards preventing hunger in Russia. One such organization is the SOS Children’s Village which specifically helps children whose families can no longer support them. The organization, which started working in Russia in the late 1980s,  also engages in advocacy work with the government to ensure the utmost protection of these children and their nutritional needs.

In conclusion, while hunger in Russia remains a serious problem, there is a reason for cautious optimism. As displayed by the remarkable decrease in rates of undernourishment in the population over the past 20 years, the government, the global community and NGOs are working to end hunger in Russia.

– Chace Pulley
Photo: Flickr