Reviving Rural Russia

A century ago, Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin understood the need for conditions that allow private farmers to develop. But today, the disparity between urban and rural life is being allowed to widen – with serious consequences.

MOSCOW – In 1906, Pyotr Stolypin, my great-grandfather, was appointed Prime Minister of Imperial Russia. Among his first undertakings was a series of agricultural reforms aimed at creating a new class of smallholding farmers. Five years later, the population had grown by 18.5 million, far exceeding the previous growth rate; Russia had become the largest exporter of grain to Europe; and roughly three million private farmers had joined the new rural middle class.

Stolypin’s success reflected not only his systematic approach to solving a complex problem, but also how highly he valued farming. In today’s Russia, however, small-scale farming remains a low priority compared to large industrial operations. Expediency and quick profit trump diversity and stability.

Today’s global economy can be broken down into two systems: a virtual, securities-based economy, which represents most economic activity and a small, yet powerful, minority of the world’s population, and the rural economy, which represents a tiny fraction of global GDP and directly affects the lives of the vast majority of people. As the gap between these systems grows, so do social and economic tensions, exemplified in the Arab Spring uprisings.

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