Staunton, September 2 – Preliminary results of the 2016 agricultural census, released last week, show that the number of farms in the Russian Federation fell by 38.4 percent in the ten years prior to that date, largely but not exclusively as the result of the continuing shift from small farms to larger agro-industrial operations.
This pattern f declining numbers and increasing size was typical of all federal districts except one: the North Caucasus FD. There the number of small farmers increased and there was little consolidation into larger farms (icss.ru/otrasli-i-ryinki/agropromyishlennyij-sektor/vserossijskaya-selskoxozyajstvennaya-perepis-2016-g).
The trend outside the North Caucasus is typical of what is happening with agriculture in many countries, especially as the capital costs of farming have increased; and thus is no surprise. But the fact that this trend has not extended to the North Caucasus is significant above all for three political reasons.
First of all, it signals that rural overpopulation in that region, the result of high growth rates, is becoming even more serious with ever more people competing for a limited amount of land, something that sparks conflicts within ethnic communities in homogeneous areas and between them in mixed populations.
Second, it means that the rising incomes in some rural areas elsewhere do not extent to the North Caucasus. Not only is poverty there high, but it is increasing far beyond the capacity of the Russian authorities to address it. As a result, ever more people there are prepared to listen to the messages of radicals, including Islamist ones.
And third, because the possession of land is so important a cultural phenomenon – one thinks of the attitudes Pearl Buck described in The Good Earth – any redrawing of borders is more rather than less likely to generate conflict. As important as borders were in Soviet times, they are more important now especially as land shortages intensify.