Parched Russia plans to import grain: report

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Russia is planning this year to return to the Soviet practice of importing millions of tonnes of grain to overcome a shortfall caused by a record drought, a report said on Thursday.

For the 2010-2011 agricultural year, Russia could import at least five million tonnes of grain, a source close to the leadership of the ministry of agriculture told the Vedomosti daily.

Until the current drought which has destroyed one quarter of its crops, Russia was one of the world's top grain exporters. In the last year, it was the world's number three exporter of wheat.

The official told the paper that Russia had already decided to import grain and all that remained to be resolved was in what quantities this should be done.

A major source for the imports of grain to Russia could be Kazakhstan, which expects to export eight million tonnes of grain this year on a harvest of 13.5-14.5 million tonnes.

The government had said it was hoping to cover the shortfall from a state fund and grain left over from last year's harvest.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has banned Russian grain exports in a bid to keep the Russian domestic market well supplied with grain and prevent sharp rises in prices.

The move by such a key global player stung world wheat markets, sending prices to two-year highs and sparking worries of a crisis in global food supplies.

Last year, Russia exported 21.4 million tonnes of grain and had even embarked on a major new campaign to boost its international market share, an ambition that now must be set aside for some time.

Poor harvests in the early 1980s forced the Soviet Union to import large quantities of grain from abroad, pushing up its foreign debt.

© 2010 AFP

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