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This report is based on the book The End of Peasantry?: The Disintegration of Rural Russia, written by Grigori%u012D Ioffe and Ilya Zaslavsky. The book was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press and copyrighted by the authors in 2006. The intent of writing this report is to discuss the role played by agriculture in shaping the Russian economy with regard to the rural areas of the country. Different features of physical and geographical environment contribute greatly in the agricultural production. Migration of people to urban areas and decreasing population in rural areas poses a threat to land cultivation, hence reducing agriculture activity.
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The End of Peasantry? is a far-reaching research material that can be used in many disciplines, such as economics, agriculture, human geography, European studies, and political science. These branches of science examine the significance of intensive land usage from their perspective, in order to improve the stability of a nation. Effective use of land, particularly for agriculture, contributes to improved standards of living, as well enhancing the growth of the country’s economy as a whole. However, there are some conditions that hinder economic growth of a country that should be critically examined. It is noted that living patterns of people are influenced by both geographical and physical environmental factors. The authors have used Russia as an example for these studies, because of its size, natural resources, and different physical environments. The environment of Russia is rather hostile; therefore, the lives of its citizens are determined mainly by agricultural activities (Spulber 56).
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In 1897, majority of Russians lived in rural areas; and they traditionally worked on the land. In 2002, there were 38.3 million people living in the countryside of Russia (Dando). Even though, the urban population of the country is increasing, most of Russians who live in urban areas were born and raised in rural areas. There are 16 million rural household farms in the country. Therefore, agriculture plays such an important role in the Russian economic and rural village life. As a matter of fact, Russian agriculture has faced crises, which puts some profound implications on its political and economic stability.
Before Russia shifted to a market economy, land was efficiently utilized, as many people were engaged in farming. Moreover, there was a lot of land available, because the population density was low. However, harsh environmental conditions hindered agricultural activities, and the Russians living in rural areas migrated to towns in search of job opportunities, to ensure their livelihood. Consequently, this was the beginning of challenges to be faced by the agricultural sector in the Russian economy. Furthermore, the agriculture went through some drastic turning points, as the settlement pattern persistently changed. For instance, in 1861, serfdom and collectivization was abolished from Russia, in an attempt to promote rural labor (Lecture Feb 7 n.p.). To make it worse, the current prevailing market forces have divided people in the rural areas to extent that production could not be intensified for the growth of the economy. Chapter six of this book explores the idea that agricultural development hindrances in Russia rises from both social and physical factors of its environment. In addition, the subsequent chapters analyze the implications and the prospecting results of Russia’s agricultural development.
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In late 1920s - 1930s, Russians began to use the land effectively for production of agricultural goods. For instance, the establishment of collective farms enabled people to hold large tracts of land, which facilitated technological advancement in agriculture. Those, who lived in urban areas, were in a position to cooperate with relatives and friends in working on the rural lands, and using common cattle and farm equipment. Physical environment characteristics, such as temperature and soil type, influenced the production in collective farms, which boosted survival in the rural villages. However, several collective farms were converted into state farms in late 1980’s, because of their inefficient results, as outlined by the Communist Party (Bradshaw 85).
According to table 3.7, presented in the book, there is a relationship between the daily temperature, farmland, and the population of rural villages. This illustration indicates that an extreme temperature rate reduces agricultural production in an area. As a result, people migrate to other places in search of greener pastures, leaving the rural areas scarcely populated. Moreover, table 3.9 shows that the majority of the rural population in Russia lives in semi-humid climate and the agricultural lands are found in semi arid zones. Other component factors of the physical environment that affect agriculture in Russia are moisture and heat. Table 3.10 and table 3.11 show the level of heat and moisture in the rural areas (76). These tables indicate that almost fifty percent of Russia’s territory is suitable for agriculture and farming. Thus, half of the country is capable of supporting agricultural activities.
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Soil type is also a key factor that influences agriculture in the Russian economy. For instance, the northern part of the state is referred to as non-chernozem, or non-black earth, regions, which discourages agriculture (23). The tundra areas are characterized with the frozen soils; which, in turn, hampers cultivation of crops (Lecture Feb 2 n.p.). Some lands have short growing season of less than 10 weeks. Thus, it is very unproductive for agriculture because of cold climate and permafrost soil. Similarly, Central Russia has a harsh climate with the growing season lasting only from May to October (12). Therefore, agricultural production is limited due to low quality of soil and unfavorable climate conditions (Lecture March 1 n.p.). According to lecture notes on physical geography, steppes are one of the environmental zones that are favorable for agriculture because of the warmer climate, as compared to the northern parts of the European Russia. Moreover, it has the best soil for agriculture in the world, called black earth belt soil or chernozem. The main problem in the steppe area for agriculture is annual moisture deficit. For example, the area of dry steppe in the northern part of Kazakhstan and Western Siberia’s southern region, which is known as virgin land, has been converted into cropland of about 32 million hectares (25). However, the best agriculture land for farming in Russia is mixed forest areas, because there is moisture surplus for farming and soil is of a good quality (Lecture Feb 2 n.p.).
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Geographical location of people also has a great impact on agricultural activities performed in a given area. For example, the decreasing number of rural populations in Central Russia and Volga region between 1959 and 1989 caused the decline in agricultural production, as people abandoned farmlands (139). It is worth noting that depopulation leads to the emergence of large areas of bare lands. Pskov and Perm regions can be used to illustrate the effects of environment and accessibility on cropland. According to figure 6.4, the northern districts of Perm region are located in higher latitude than Pskov; hence, it has long and harsh winter. Furthermore, Perm contains environmentally marginal land, which hampers development of agriculture (140). Consequently, population has been declining in both regions, as people shift to comfortable areas. The consistent movements of young people to the city in search of industrial jobs have hampered agriculture, because only the poor aged people are left in the rural villages (Lecture March 7 n.p.). Thus, agriculture has been despised in the economy, leading to the shortage of food.
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Agricultural production and land abandonment arises from the effects of the rural population and physical quality of land. As people migrate to urban areas, demand for agricultural labor increases. This is mainly because of depopulation. Nevertheless, poor soil quality, like the non-chernozem areas, decreases agricultural activities. Thus, soil of good quality is needed for the improvement of the production of agriculture to be realized.
In conclusion, the book is meaningful and well written piece of work. The authors succeeded in describing the needs of a country that would find it appropriate in improving its agricultural sector. Essentially, labor and favorable physical environments are needed for efficient production of food. Nevertheless, agriculture forms the backbone of the country’s economy today. For instance, those who stay in urban areas depend on food supplies from the rural lands. Therefore, emphasis should be put on how agricultural activities can be increased.
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Migration from villages to cities and towns poses additional threat to the urban lands, as fertile lands in rural areas are not cultivated. Favorable climatic conditions, such as moderate temperature, rain, and heat, are needed in order to boost agriculture. Extreme conditions render a given region hostile, thereby forcing people to relocate to other places. Furthermore, soil is a factor that should be looked at before starting the agricultural activity. Soil of high quality, such as chernozem promotes agriculture. As a result, production activities increase, leading to improved standards of living. Population of the rural areas increases, as people concentrate on agriculture to provide for their livelihood.
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I find this section quite important because the agricultural sector has been undermined for a long time, and poverty continues to loom in many households. I believe that we need to harness much effort in ensuring that there is adequate amount of food in the stores. This can only be possible if rural areas are upgraded by embracing proper technology in agricultural production. Migration from rural to urban areas should be discouraged by allowing people to focus on agriculture activities. The quality of soil in arid areas can be improved by use of fertilizers, in order to enhance agricultural production. Furthermore, if the rainy seasons are used effectively in farming then many settling will be created in the rural areas.