My pal Richard Rozwadowski has just returned from a 2,000km road trip around Belarus. I used to work in Belarus about ten years ago and it was pretty much knackered so unless he has suddenly got a job with the Belarusian tourist boards it sounds as if things have very much changed for the better. This is what he had to say.
“Generally the roads are in very good condition, even in small villages. The main motorways are in top condition and it is one of the nicest places to drive in Europe as not only no speed cameras and no police but also very little traffic. There is a $1 toll to pay on the M1 motorway but you can only pay in dollars, Euro or Russian roubles but not Belarussian roubles. It meant I had to pay by credit card twice so am interested to see how much my $1 will cost.”
“Crops looked good and I did not see a single weed in the fields. Mostly barley, wheat and maize (probably for forage). The maize looked tremendous and better than any I've seen in Ukraine. Generally the whole country is very tidy and clean. However still state farms and still with about 450 staff employed per one farm of 2,000 to 3,000 Ha. Obviously the cost of production is really high. Belarus has focused on livestock production and plenty of large herds of cows out grazing, under electric fences. Probably Belarus does not have much impact on international trade as most of the grain is fed to livestock.”
“From 12-14 July I saw 6 combines working (including 2 Claas mega) on rape but there was actually very little rape grown which is surprising as Belarus has good rainfall and generally light land like Western Ukraine. However Lukashenko, either does not count rape as a crop, or these guys were out of line as Lukashenko has ordered that the Belarussian harvest starts on July 25th. Don't be late!”
“Belarus is liberalising fast and has jumped up the World Bank / IFC 'Ease of doing business' about 50 places to just above Spain. Miles above Ukraine which is down at 115 or so. I can't see any foreigners investing in Belarus (3 McDonalds in Minsk is about it) so not sure how practical their liberalisation is on the ground.
“Interesting to find out how they survive. One way is obviously by printing money and a quick shop in the supermarket (we only saw one large supermarket) cost 250,000 Belarussian roubles! Some of the cashpoints even give 1 million! It's 3,000 to $1. Prices are like in Ukraine, petrol a bit more and cigarettes really cheap. There are NO soviet cars In Minsk but less jeeps than Kiev and generally cheaper than Kiev cars (Opel, Ford etc).”
“Interesting country and worth keeping an eye on it.”
Indeed it is, many thanks Richard.