Reviving Rural Russia

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.

The United Nations’ Millennium Project was designed to bridge this gap through food-security programs. As a result, governments from Africa to Latin America are showing remarkable progress in making agriculture a high public-policy priority. But not Russia. Despite increasingly unsustainable social conditions, the country’s leaders refuse to pursue agricultural reform.