Ensuring food security remains a challenge for Azerbaijan, which could decrease its dependence on import food products.
The post-Soviet country with excellent natural conditions and unique priorities has significantly decreased import of food products in recent years. This means that the country is no longer dependent on imported food products. The share of food products in the overall structure of imported goods of Azerbaijan is only 12-14 percent; the remaining shares are construction materials, vehicles and various equipments.
"A figure of 12-14 percent is quite small," economic expert Ogtay Hagverdiyev told local press. "For example, in Armenia this figure amounts to 50-60 percent. The food products that we import are mostly exotic. However, there are some food products the import of which is really necessary for Azerbaijan. They include oil, sugar and grain that we produce domestically, but still are unable to meet fully the domestic demand."
"Each year we import about one million tons of grain, sometimes even more, as well as a lot of butter. Earlier we used imported vegetable oil in large quantities, but now we don't import it, because we domestically produce vegetable oil. We used to import bananas in large quantities as well, but now its import has been reduced," the expert added.
The agricultural sector is important not only for increasing Azerbaijan's export potential, but also for restoring and protecting the country's food security. Protecting the quality and price of food stuff produced in Azerbaijan and producing them in accordance with quality standards are among the top issues of the country's food security.
In Soviet times, Azerbaijan mainly imported vegetables from other countries. Now the independent Azerbaijan with developed and diversified economy is able to provide its population with domestically produced vegetables.
Also, Azerbaijan provides itself with fruits, but due to supply and demand mechanism, the country imports some fruits in particular from neighboring Iran and Turkey.
Chairman of the Sustainable Development Research Center, Nariman Agayev believes there is a certain category of product that Azerbaijan will always import.
"There are some agricultural produce, with which we have problems, for example, butter and other dairy products. The problem of butter will never be resolved in our country, and we will have to constantly import it. Our government has taken serious measures on food security, and there is a positive trend. However there are several products that we will always import, including grain," the expert noted.
Azerbaijan is conducting serious measures, because ensuring food security is one of the country's strategic goals. Within the "Azerbaijan-2020: Vision into the Future" concept, Azerbaijan is taking steps to ensure food security in the country, and one of the key elements of this concept is to eliminate dependence on food products imports. The country has been able to achieve this goal in the past five years, and Azerbaijan is expected to fully meet its demands through local production in the coming years.
The government's huge investment in the agricultural sector has left bright results. Currently, the import of certain agricultural products has decreased in Azerbaijan compared with the previous years. Thus, Azerbaijan's ability to endure the population's food demands and provide them with domestically produced foods has increased.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree in mid-January 2014 on taking additional measures for improving food markets and agricultural products.
The decree noted that Azerbaijan will establish a network of specialized farmer stores and 'green' shops which will operate in Baku's districts and Azerbaijan's large cities on a permanent basis.
The establishment of such specialized farmer stores and 'green' shops in Azerbaijan is one of the main factors of food security and will allow the country to provide its population with organic and ecologically clean products.
Today, Azerbaijan is meeting the population's demand for meat products by 90 percent, poultry meat by 81 percent, eggs by 80 percent, dairy products by 75 percent, vegetable oil by 65 percent, and butter by 50 percent through local production.
However, the country is still dependent on the import of strategic products. Azerbaijan produced 2.8 million tons of grain in 2013 and was able to meet the population's demand by 75 percent. It means Azerbaijan had to import the remaining 25 percent from abroad. This figure shows the dependence on imports.
Today, Azerbaijan mainly imports vehicles and their spare parts, electronic equipment, land, air and water transport, food products, base metals, chemical products, furniture and its parts, as well as pharmaceutical products.