Let a Hundred Projects Blossom
Since the founding of the Union State Belarus and Russia have implemented 50 science and technology programs with a total budget of over RUB25 billion. The two countries have accumulated a wealth of experience and achieved excellent results. The programs cover diverse areas from remote sensing of the Earth and nanostructural electronics to development of drugs from lactoferrin and cultivation of potatoes and artichoke. Ideas for cooperation abound. In May, the Union State government approved four new science and technology programs. Among them are Technology-sg, Luch, Autoelectronics and a project for the development of a unified system of technical support of railways. At the same time, there are a lot of interesting concepts that can become a reality in the near future. For example, these include the programs Flax and DNA Identification.
The first program Flax provides for a comprehensive upgrade of linen mills in Belarus and Russia. Despite the fact that flax has always been perceived as an inherently Slavic crop, the industry is currently not in its best shape both in Russia and Belarus. In the early 20th century, Russia was the world’s leading producer of flax linen and related products. The gross harvest of raw flax exceeded 350,000 tonnes by 1990. Since then it has fallen 3.5 times to under 100,000 tonnes. So the program came in timely. Its budget made up more than RUB2.5 billion. By the way, there was already a program in the Union State aimed at developing the flax industry. Although it was poorly financed, only 27% of its needs were covered, it still gave positive results throughout the flax- production chain. For example, scientists and engineers of the two countries came up with good solutions to upgrade the traditional flax processing technologies. Belarusian enterprises teamed up with Russian mechanical engineers to produce flax turners. Trial samples of flax harvesting equipment were tested in the fields of Dubrovno flax factory and proved their worth. Still that was clearly not enough. Cotton manufacturers from Central Asia took advantage of the situation and swiftly gobbled up the apparel, table and bed linen market. However, the situation with cotton is not so rosy either.
Sowing and genetic potential of cotton plants was exhausted long ago, as evidenced by the rapid, more than 3.5 times, increase in cotton prices over the last three years. Search is currently underway for alternative raw materials, and flax is one of the options. “The situation in the market is such that Russia and Belarus could regain their lost ground in the world flax market by integrating their scientific, agricultural and industrial capacities,” said Galina Shanbanovich, a senior researcher with the flax products quality laboratory at the Flax Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.
Flax cultivation gets support at the state and interstate level through targeted programs in many countries: Saxon Flax (Germany), Scandinavian Flax (France, Denmark, Sweden), South African Flax. The United States started cultivating flax only 10 years ago but has been actively ramping up the output. However, the experience of Belarus and Russia in this industry, favorable climate, convenient transportation links with Europe, the stable demand for organic and eco goods are good prerequisites for the Slavic northern silk to win a good share of the global market. A curious fact, the Romans called flax “the best of the fruits of the Earth”. Flax does not contaminate soils. Nor does it accumulate radionuclides, either in its fibers or in seeds. Meanwhile, expanding the areas under cotton is almost impossible, as it might provoke another environmental disaster. In Central Asia, for example, this led to the disappearance of the Aral Sea.
The Union State is lagging behind the world’s leading flax producers, as there are problems