Staunton, October 2 – One of the most unexpected results of the coronavirus, Yevgeniya Serova says, is the boost it has given to rural Russia, not only because agriculture is almost alone in showing growth this year but because the pandemic has shown how people can live one place and study or work at a distance in another.
The agro-industrial sector may turn out to be the only part of the Russian economy which will show growth during 2020, the director of the Institute of Agrarian Relations at the Higher School of Economics says, with output and foreign sales both up significantly for the year (ng.ru/kartblansh/2020-10-01/3_7979_kartblansh.html).
Production was up 3.3 percent during the first half of the year, and foreign sales in the first eight months rose 13 percent to 17 billion US dollars, a figure achieved by the continuing decline in the exchange rates for the ruble and by the establishment of agricultural attaches in Russian embassies in the 50 countries most likely to purchase Russian farm produce.
But those increases, Serova continues, were not the most important developments in rural Russia, some negative and some positive. Among the negative were growing demand for lower quality produce and the increasing concentration of ownership among producers and processers of food goods.
But among the positive, she says, were the various consequences of the shift to working at a distance. Recent developments show that “in order to earn money, one need not necessarily live in a metropolis.” Instead, one can live in a rural locale or a small city and work from home via the Internet.
This all matters because at present, “only 20 percent of Russia’s rural population receives incomes from agricultural activity.” Many who live in cities now can go to rural areas without any loss of income but will a dramatic decline in the cost of living, the expert on rural Russia says.
Many people from Moscow are moving into neighboring rural oblasts, she says. More could if infrastructure were developed first and foremost reliable Internet but also decent highways so that people can move about. Otherwise young Russians won’t want to move back to the villages even if their elders do.
This requires a different approach from both local officials and Moscow. Instead of calculating how well off a place is by how many hospital beds are available, both should be concerned about how fast medical care can reach people and how easy it is to transfer those who need more advanced assistance to urban hospitals.
“When we speak about the future of rural areas,” Serova concludes, “the imperative must be: people live there and consequently we must find and economic means of dispatching resources there rather than continuing to urge” rural people to move to the cities. The pandemic has shown that this can be done.