Foresight: Agriculture and rural areas – is there a common future?

Marina Petukhova,
Leading Fellow,
Institute for Agrarian Studies of Higher School of Economics,
Moscow, Russia

Novosibirsk State Agrarian University,
Novosibirsk, Russia

Traditionally, agricultural has developed exclusively in rural areas. This is especially true for Russia, where 23% of the area is occupied by rural areas, and 65.8% is forests. These territories provided most of the gross agricultural output. In Russian practice, the term “rural areas” means territories where economic activity is carried out mainly in the form of agricultural, hunting, fishing, etc. However, currently there is a transformation of socio-cultural and economic processes in rural areas. Now you can meet residents who are already engaged in non-traditional activities in the village. For example, a web designer can work remotely in a rural area, or a system administrator. Many urban residents move to the countryside and create new social formations there. They have a positive impact on the socio-economic organization of rural areas. They become a link between the village and the city, local and global space. There is a redistribution of capital.

At the same time, the gross output of agricultural began to be created in agricultural holdings located in suburban areas. That is, production is gradually moving from the village to the city and suburban areas. This allows to minimize the logistics costs of manufacturers, reduce the carbon footprint, etc. An example of such a transformation is city-farmers who grow vegetables, greens, berries in shopping centers, in empty factory premises, roofs and basements. This is also relevant for Russia, where there are 15 cities with a population of more than 1 million people. There is a high demand for fresh and organic vegetables among the urban population. The technologies used by city-farmers (hydroponics, aeroponics) do not require agrochemicals.

Therefore, the question arises more and more often: What kind of future awaits rural areas? In what format will they exist in the future? And will they be?

In my opinion, the following formats of rural areas are possible in the future.

Ecovillage. According to surveys conducted by the Higher School of Economics, 25 million urban residents of Russia, or 15% of the population, are ready to move to rural areas if life there will differ little from urban in terms of income and infrastructure. These are mostly people who are tired of the urban lifestyle. Successful, but exhausted by urban life people. They are changing their value orientations in life towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. This is how ecovillage arise. For example, in the Novosibirsk region, the “Mira Village” was built, a project that unites people who choose a healthy lifestyle, self-development and a happy childhood. They produce eco-products. It seems to me that this is one of the most promising forms of organizing rural areas in the future. Especially in the context of an increasing trend for sustainable development. Yes, these will not be huge villages, as it was before. These will be small village scattered over the vast territory of Russia.

Shift settlements. They will be relevant for the territories where large agricultural holdings are located, mainly robotic and automated. For their maintenance, a staff of specialists will be needed, who will come to work on a shift basis. This form of organization now exists in the northern part of Russia, but over time it will spread to its entire territory. Only 1-2 operators are needed to service unmanned harvesters, milking robots and other technologies of the future agriculture. And not a whole staff of livestock breeders, agronomists and engineers. This will be especially in demand in the context of a reduction in the number of people employed in agriculture (by 40% in last 20 years in Russia).

Agritourism. A less radical form of urban penetration into the countryside is the development of agritourism. When city residents are completely immersed in rural life for a few days. This will allow them to “reboot” and return to work in the city with new strength. In European and some Asian countries, this is a highly developed direction. In Russia, it is still less in demand, but it is gradually gaining momentum. The following situation arises. Agritourism is developed by urban residents who have moved to the village and are engaged in small craft industries (cheeses, meat products, pastries, etc.). They attract other city residents who come to spend the weekend with them. That is, there is a cumulative effect.

Thus, in the future, rural areas will be associated not with traditional agricultural, but mainly with recreation or alternative employment. With the transition of the economy to a new technological order, there will also be a structural transformation of the village. There is no need to be afraid of this. Without transformation, further development is impossible. This “bifurcation point” in rural development will be the impetus for the creation of new forms of rural areas. Agricultural will no longer prevail here. Perhaps the villages will become the growth points of a new generation of people who combine environmental friendliness, economy and innovation.


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