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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

Russia: Land, Workers

Russia's lower house of Parliament, the Duma, approved legislation in June 2002 that would create a legal system to allow Russians, but not foreigners, to buy and sell farm land for the first time since farms were nationalized in 1917. President Vladimir V. Putin supports land sales; the Communist and Agrarian parties oppose "selling the motherland."


Kokholzy, or collective farms, farmed more than 90 percent of Russia's one billion acres of farm land in 2002.


When the USSR collapsed in 1991, President Boris N. Yeltsin used decrees to give workers on collective farms shares of the enterprises, and the 1993 Constitution allowed these 13 million Russian "shareholders" to buy and sell their shares. However, most collective farms do not divide up their land into salable units, so that in most cases shares cannot be sold.


Instead, shareholders often lease their collective farm's land to private farming companies in exchange for annual rent, which usually is paid in grain or wheat. In order to create a land market, collective farms would have to be: (1) sold as a unit, with the proceeds divided among shareholders, which could prompt a wave of rural-urban migration; or (2) divided up among shareholders, so that they could sell their land. Many observers note that 70 years of collective farming make many current landowners reluctant to farm alone.


Alcoholism is a serious problem among workers on Russian farms, and many farms pay workers in coupons instead of cash to workers to make it more difficult for workers to buy alcohol. By controlling what is sold in the only stores in remote areas, farm managers can limit alcohol consumption. Overstaffing and low pay is the rule in Russian agriculture. One farm with 600 cows had 105 workers, and their wages ranged from 780 rubles ($25) a month for tractor drivers to 600 rubles ($19) for milkers.


Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in July 2002 signed an agreement regulating the employment of migrants in agriculture in border regions. Many southern Kazakh farmers employ Kyrgyz and Uzbek workers seasonally.


Steven Lee Myers, "Russia's Capitalists Seeking to Discard Collective Farms," New York Times, June 20, 2002. Robyn Dixon, "Network of farms pays mostly in coupons to ensure that workers don't drink up their paychecks," Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2002.


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