Russians are Leaving Cites for the Country, Bringing New Life to Rural Areas

The exodus of people from the city to the village is a new Russian trend, sociologists say

The exodus of people from the city to the village is a new Russian trend, sociologists say. In some regions the proportion of “un-urbanized” people can reach up to ten percent.

The Russian Academy of National Economy and Civil Service (RASHiGS) analyzed what distinguishes the modern influx of city dwellers from the typical wave of summer residents.

Why townspeople are becoming the most important innovators in rural areas, and whether it is profitable to engage in personal subsidiary farming, was explained to us by the director of the Research Center for Agrarian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander Nikulin:

Have a lot of townspeople really started moving to the villages?

“Today we have begun to register the second wave of citizens who have begun to leave the city for the countryside. Notably, they are not leaving to survive, like the first wave at the beginning of the 1990s, but are intentionally going. Many are opening their own family businesses, and others are looking for some original niche for economic activity.”

Doesn't it seem logical enough to want to engage in agricultural production, such as breeding cows, pigs, or planting potatoes?

“After 2000, farms began to grow like mushrooms, especially in regions close to large cities. The ratio of the ruble to the dollar turned out to be attractive to investors investing money in agriculture. The owners of Private Subsidiary Farms, (LPH) along with the giants of agribusiness have become difficult to compete with. Consequently, many people are now trying to specialize in exclusive rural occupations which don't identify or replicate large businesses.”

Can you give an example?

“Tens of thousands of poultry, pigs, cows, etc. are usually bred in conveyor conditions by agro-holdings. But let's say a self-employed farmer has a goat. There are no goat argoholdings. Which means private farmers of goats have certain advantages. In the Saratov region there is an amazing farmer named Yuri Karamzin. In the 1990s, he worked in Spain, and saw how they make cheese. He returned to Russia, and now lives 80 kilometers from the village Loch. He shepherds elite goats and is engaged in cheese making according to Spanish technologies and his own recipes. He sells it to prosperous customers in Saratov.”

Does anyone have private gardens?

“The intensity of gardening depends on the region. In some places it is profitable, in other, not so much. Take the Lipetsk region for example. It is a beautiful region, where many potatoes are grown. In the 1990s people mass-grew potatoes in household farms there. They said they made good money by doing this. In autumn, a truck was hired and the harvest was brought to Moscow. Now this is becoming unprofitable, because even in villages of three or four thousand residents there are chain stores. The stores have Israeli potatoes at lower prices than those the Lipetsk subsidiary farms could offer."

"But many rural-urban economies are flexibly reconstructing their enterprises in search of new niches. Here it is often those who “come in large numbers” who act as the drivers of change, initiators of something new. They cultivate, for example, special varieties of potatoes, which have tastes the store potatoes cannot equal. Many family households are engaged in harvesting berries, mushrooms, or fish. When you drive along the highway in the directions of Moscow, Vologda, Arkhangelsk, everywhere really, you are offered wild plants, or homemade canned food. And personal farms, in contrast to mega-production farms, focus on the quality of the goods. If, for instance, the for is from a family garden, there is more emphasis on its environmental friendliness, along with the rejection of poisonous fertilizers.”

But are these all words? Do they have any documents to confirm them?

“The fact is that the entire informal economy of personal part-time farms is based on trust, which acts as a social capital. And owners of individual farms value their reputation. Their market depends on this. It is enough to sell a low-quality product once in a while, but that makes it easy to lose your personal customers.”

Can you estimate the scale of deurbanization? How many city people have returned to villages?

“The accurate estimation of people, is hard to say, now that most people are mobile. The transportation connections are very well developed. Today, you are a city dweller, and tomorrow, a villager. That is, it is pretty much impossible to talk about the autonomy of the city and village now."

"Once, a Russian sociology classicist, Pitirim Sorokin suggested the naming of this phenomenon to be, rural-urban continuum. According to statistics, there are about 150 thousand rural settlements in Russia. However, only 30 thousand of them are registered on paper. The rest are abandoned villages. About 10-12 thousand of them are kept alive due to townspeople-summer residents. According to our experts' estimates, depending on the region, the number of townspeople applying for jobs in rural employments can compose 7-10 percent more than the original inhabitants."

Is that a lot or less?

“The outflow of the indigenous population from the villages of course does not overlap. Much more residents who work in the cities are officially registered as villagers."

"But at the same time, the percentage of townspeople who have moved is a sufficient enough push to give positive changes to the village. The level of employment of villagers is increasing as a resource base for agro-tourism is being formed. Summer residents are interested in getting settled in villages. From their resources, they help to something about abandoned houses, and the surrounding landscapes.”

So, are there practically no indigenous villagers living in the villages?

“Again, that depends on the region. The social rural landscape is really changing. Diversification of the countryman's activities started back in the 1990s. Now that process is intensifying. Although they produce less from their gardens, it is because they are more engaged in maintenance of summer residences, construction, etc. They also leave to work in the big cities. Usually they work there on a rotational basis: a month or two away, then a small rest at home, and then the next shift."

"Recently we compared the rural development of our states with Chinese scientists. The Chinese said that their country's population is divided into three parts: rural Chinese, urban Chinese, and Chinese migrants. The same can be said about Russia. Internal migrants from Russian villages are now a powerful army, there are millions of them. And they are an important element of the informal rural economy. The money they earn they invest in the support and development of their households."

"Incidentally, when some villagers who worked in the cities lost their jobs, and were now in a crisis, they went back to their villages, engaged in subsidiary farming again, but this time with the use of modern urban technologies. Agriculture is one of the most innovative industries around the world today.”

Many have a stereotype that the village and technological progress are incompatible concepts. Is that true?

“A hundred years ago that was basically true everywhere. But today, if we look at labor productivity and the technological equipment of agricultural industries, the technical and economic superiority of modern agrarian enterprises is often found more than many urban industry enterprises."

"In 1920, the tractor factory, Ford, was a more primitive brand than any other car brand. For example, the modern western tractor Fendt is technically more complicated and costs more than a Mercedes or BMW. And the current agroholding is many times more productive than the former collective and state farms. Although this is also a double-edged sword in a capitalist economy, as the growth of labor productivity throw superfluous people out on the street.”

Is there innovation on private farms?

“We have begun to study these processes. Progress is all the same to those who benefit, whether from agroholdings or private households. Many remember what kind of greenhouses people had in their backyards back in the 1990s. Some built them out of window frames, or even the skeletons of iron beds, and some covered them with cellophane tape. Now, if you drive through the regions, you can notice that almost all of Russia has installed standard and convenient technological greenhouse designs of various sizes. They are bought in large stores or are even ordered online."

"Virtually any modern high-performance and reliable garden equipment can be purchased, although mostly well-off and successful households can afford them. But, the process of technical re-equipment of personal subsidiary plots, (LPH) is also good and gaining momentum."

"The state could very well support the villagers in this regard. When the delegation of our institute was in China, they learned the average land plot of a Chinese farmer is about 14 of our hectares. That is similar to the size of an ordinary Russian private household plot. Local authorities help the Chinese with small inventory, equipment, and are equipping their facilities with solar batteries. As a result, labor productivity is also increasing in these small forms of agriculture. In addition, the Chinese state tries to carry out a guaranteed purchase of agricultural products from farmers through special cooperatives. And we at LPH often don't know where or how to sell goods.”

How are the relations between the “New Village” and the state? Particularly if they try to engage in informal business?

“Until recently, the state has turned a blind eye to the informal, rural-urban economy. There was also to a large extent, the problem of depressed areas, rural poverty, and low salaries in the countryside. That is why with these problems the informal economy of households itself was doing quite well."

"But now more and more often officials say that it's time to restore order, because only in the terms of that one particular economy is the household economy microscopic. And if such farms are in the millions, the orders are given to bring the informal rural economy of the village out of the shadows."

"But here we need a differentiated approach. It's one thing with an old woman who grows onions and garlic for herself and her grandchildren. The construction workers, on the other hand are nowhere legalized, although they do earn quite a lot of money."

"After the war under Stalin, the state sought to impose taxes on any kind of product produced by private farms. Then, in response, production by farms began to decline. As a result, the villages became very tight, and the state income also began to decline.”

Is it possible to estimate the movement toward personal farms, and their contribution to the economy?

“There are no detailed statistics; all are understatements.. The villagers themselves perfer not to deal with the state, at least not with information about their economies."

"In our work we try to used some fragments from generalized official data that is available to the state. According to the All-Russia Agricultural Census, held in 2006, 57.3 percent of all agricultural products produced in Russia came from family farms. If you look at certain types of eatable products the LPH accounted for, you'll learn that 92 percent of potatoes, 77 percent of vegetables, fruits, and berries, and 88 percent of the honey produced in Russia came from family farms. That is, in addition to milk, meat, poultry, and grain, many types of agricultural products produced in our country are still produced on private farms."

"In the last decade, the private farms have reduced production of eatable products, because they diversify their activities with crafts, tourism, recreation, and ecology.”

Is the modern village flourishing?

“Things in the country can go either way, bad or good, almost always difficult, the livelihoods of the rural population in the Russian provinces are as ineradicable as nature itself. Our geographers carried out some research on the rural settlements, and during the Seven Mile steps, villages particularly disappeared in the late Soviet period, in the 1960s – the 1980s. There was massive urbanization, industrialization, and working hands were needed all the time in the cities. Now everything has been largely stabilized, and the villages disappear less than in the Soviet times. Massive urbanization was the main reason may villages ceased to exist in the second half of the 20th century, and most of the remaining ones are located near large cities and on fertile ground."

"Unfortunately, we have lost a relatively complete rural settlement network in Russia. Now there are only archipelagoes of rural settlements near large cities, and between them the former farmland is overgrown by forests. The country empties from within. And the authorities need to take care of that problem. Since it is not just about food, but also about the spatial security of the country.”

Does the security problem more concern the border territories of the country? Like in the Far East?

“We and the Non-black earth region are empty today, not so much in the Far East. If the free hectares in the Non-black earth part of Russia were also handed out, that could really revive the Russian countryside.”

Adapted from (Russian)
Interview by Natalya Granina
Translated by Katie Gleason

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