Wednesday, August 12, 2015

As in Soviet Times, Moscow Mulls War on Private Plots, Threatening Russia with Hunger

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 12 – As if its destruction of foodstuffs at the border were not enough, the Russian government appears ready to introduce harsh restrictions on the number of cattle farmers can keep privately, something that would reduce the food supply significantly because “almost half of all [food] products in [Russia] are produced on private plots.”

            On the “Kavkazskaya politika” portal today, Anton Chablin asks whether this idea, one that recalls some of the steps the Soviet government took in the past, “threatens Russia with a famine?”  His answer is not unequivocal, but it is disturbing and explains why the move has sparked so much opposition (

            Nominally in order to improve the collection of taxes – farmers don’t pay them on the products of private plots even if they sell to others – and veterinary supervision, Prime Minsiter Dmitry Medvedev has directed three ministers to come up with a plan by September 23 to restrict the number of livestock farmers can keep on their private plots.

            Medvedev acted after repeated pressure from Stavropol Governor Vladimir Vladimirov who has pointed out that such restrictions will improve tax collection, guarantee veterinary supervision, and end the violations of public order when these farmers shift their herds through and to public lands.

            Following much criticism of this idea in the media, Vice Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich promised that the government would not pursue a forcible reduction in the size of such herds. But any reduction at all, even over time, could have serious consequences for the food supply of Russians.

            Chablin points out that in Stavropol kray, herds on private plots produce “75 percent of the kray’s milk and potatoes, more than 50 percent of its eggs and fruits, and more than 30 percent of its meat.”  “And those are only the official figures,” he notes. The real ones are undoubtedly larger.

The consequences for Russia as a whole if restrictions the size Vladimirov has proposed are thus staggering. He wants private farmers to be able to maintain only five head of cattle and 20 sheep. Reducing such herds to that level would have a serious impact on the diets of Russians all across the country.

            If Moscow wants to shift the farmers out of the “gray” zone they are in as far as taxes are concerned, some analysts say that what the Stavropol head has proposed – fines on those who violate the limits – does not go far enough. Dmitry Abzadov, head of the Center for Strategic Communications, says the government should issue patents to private plot owners.

            Others are pointedly asking why those who want to get involved in agricultural production are seeking to form private plots and not official farms. Vyacheslav Yakushev, a specialist on agriculture, says that what is necessary to change the balance is “to create conditions for the development of farming.”

            Moscow must “create conditions in the tax and credit sphere and then introduce requirements according to the form of property and not in any case do this in the reverse order. Otherwise we will destroy the production of goods, and people will run from the villages,” making the situation even worse.

            Chablin concludes: “Villagers remember Soviet collectivization when super-high taxes were imposed on personal farms.” Consequently, if tomorrow they feel threatened by the introduction of limits on personal plots, “there will simply remain no one to feed the country.” Others have reached even harsher conclusions.

            Nikolay Kharitonov, a communist deputy in the Duma, says that there is no need for Moscow to take any new steps.  Governors, like Vladimirov, have the resources now to ensure that veterinary services are provided and that people don’t put their flocks in the wrong place.  “Governor,” he says, “be good enough to impose order!” Don’t destroy the food chain to do so.

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