Agriculture

   Due to its geography and climate, agriculture in Russia is limited to approximately 7 percent of the country’s territory or 1.2 million square kilometers. Despite this limitation, Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of foodstuffs. The Russian Federation ranks fourth in arable land and is a major producer of the world’s grain (wheat, corn, oats, and barley), sugar beets, sunflower seeds, vegetables, potatoes, fruits, beef, and milk. It is the fourthlargest international producer of wheat. The areas of the country most associated with farming include the Chernozem or “Black Earth” region, the Krasnodar Krai, the Volga basin, and extreme southern Siberia. While most of Russia’s crop yield comes from products that tolerate extreme cold, tropical fruits are grown in the Caucasus and around the Black Sea.
   The country’s history is closely linked to agricultural policy, beginning with the long period of serfdom that ended in the mid-19th century. Under the Soviets, agricultural lands were nationalized to form state farms (sovkhozy) or collectivized to form collective farms (kolkhozy). The post–World War II period was characterized by a high degree of bureaucratization, which created massive inefficiencies, resulting in agricultural outputs that were dwarfed by per capita yields in Western Europe and North America. In the 1970s, overreliance on mineral fertilizers and pesticides together with irrational irrigation schemes caused significant damage to the environment and, in some cases, rendered certain areas barren.
   During the 1980s, low-level privatization resulted in significant improvements in production. Despite Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms such as the Law on Peasant Farms in 1990, the country—long the breadbasket of Europe—became a net food importer. Boris Yeltsin sought to introduce market-based reforms into the agricultural sector, providing mechanisms for the creation of private farms. However, fear of economic uncertainty resulted in a slow progression toward the privatization of agriculture in the 1990s. Government subsidies continued, and the cause of the farmer became a major political issue for parties such as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Agrarian Party of Russia.
   During the mid-1990s, crop yields plummeted and livestock herds shrank as Russia suffered from the effects of shock therapy. Many Russians took to cultivating household plots to combat rising prices during the country’s economic transition. As the Russian economy recovered under Vladimir Putin, the country was forced to import increasing amounts of food, particularly meat, to keep pace with demand; in 2008, Russia imported 40 percent of its food. The general failure of land reform, combined with competition resulting from globalization, continues to plague the sector. First, as president, Putin’s emphasis on “food security,” including state intervention in pricing and continued subsidies of poorly performing farms, created problems with Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Later, as prime minister, Putin has emphasized technological advancement as the key to increasing agricultural yields in the near term.
   See also Foreign trade; Rural life.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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