ONF experts call for direct dialogue between citizens and authorities to facilitate family homesteads

By the All-Russia People’s Front

In rural areas there are already about 400 new settlements consisting of family homesteads at different stages of development. They are being built by citizens who want to live closer to nature and develop their own eco-production. But the lack of legislative basis for new types of population centre and the inability of residents and local authorities to agree have led to a semi-legal status for homesteads, which sometimes fall under demolition. Due to this fact, participants in the ONF expert meeting say there should be a long-term strategy for the development of rural areas, so that citizens and authorities know where and what will develop.

“The development of rural areas is the main theme of the Popular Front (ONF). A lot of ideas were suggested by the participants of the December “Action Forum”. These proposals formed the basis for several orders of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. The instructions concern allowing construction of individual housing on agricultural land, and extending throughout the country the practice of allocating to citizens a free hectare of land with the right of inheritance. Our task is to work out proposals for the government to effectively develop a new type of rural population centre. In the meantime, we are faced with a situation where there is a lot of land, but it is difficult to get it,” said Yulia Ogloblina, member of the Central Staff of ONF and head of the Russian Union of Rural Youth.

Attempts by the state powers to revive deserted villages did not yield any tangible results. But the private initiative of citizens has already led to the appearance in the country of hundreds of so-called family homesteads.

The initiative to create a new type of population centre in the Russian village came from city folk. Now, in rural areas in 61 regions of the country, about 400 settlements have been  self-organized, in which more than 10,000 families cultivate the land, keep animals, develop infrastructure, and thus form new spaces in rural areas.

Alexander Samokhin, the coordinator of the development of family homesteads, said that the family homestead is a plot of land not less than one hectare where the family lives, with a house for permanent residence, a garden, a forest and a pond. Several homesteads form a settlement with its own infrastructure: roads, school, etc. On the territory of such settlements there is  organic farming and environmentally friendly production.

“This new type of population centre, in my view, is a mechanism that speaks to urban residents who have a little income and can afford to develop their hectare of land. The lack of infrastructure is one of the shortcomings of the Far Eastern Hectare project,” noted representative of the “Small Homeland – Family homestead” project in Irkutsk, Maria Pelmeneva. (The principle of the Far Eastern Hectare program is that the state will allocate a free hectare of land for those who wish to use it.)

The meeting participants agreed that it is necessary to scale this program to the entire territory of Russia and give citizens the opportunity to create not just housing, but to create their own “small homeland”. In order to remove the risk of speculation and mass building of these areas with commercial housing, experts say that it is necessary to provide land without the right to sell, but only with the right to transfer by inheritance.

However, the settlers face not only lack of clear communication, but also other problems. As long as there is no possibility to register a dwelling house built on agricultural land, settlements can not get the official status of settlements. There are also frequent conflicts with local authorities, which sometimes end in the demolition of homesteads.

Family homestead creator Kirill Sulyagin from Yaroslavl region said that there are 17 settlements in his region. They were all created with the use of loopholes in the legislation. Some places used the law on dacha non-profit partnerships, some the law about peasant (farmer) cooperatives, others still used personal subsidiary farming. But in reality, they are all settlements of family homesteads.

“It’s time to give these settlements the opportunity to develop one structure. Whether it will be a separate law on family homesteads or a new category of land will appear – agricultural land for the creation of a family homestead. In the meantime, people can not legalise the house on their land. They register it as a shed for harvesting crops,” said Kirill Sulyagin.

The participants in the expert meeting agreed that the issue of interaction between settlers and authorities is a two-way road.

“One can not allow individual officials to determine for themselves based on personal gain, where citizens can develop a family homestead, and where they can’t. There should be a long-term strategy for the development of rural areas so that authorities and citizens who want land both know where and what will develop. Otherwise it could turn out that people create a family homestead, an eco-farm, then agro-tourist base, then it turns out that according to the regional plan there will be a landfill or a pig feedlot. All interested parties need to discuss and determine where it is more effective to develop industrial agro-production, where to have small businesses, and where to ensure the development of this new type of settlement,” said Ildar Bikbaev, a member of the regional headquarters of the ONF in the Republic of Bashkortostan.

The experts of the Popular Front stressed that it was not a question of building up all rural areas with family homesteads, but rather that homesteads have highlighted the problems that exist. Solving these problems, the state will automatically solve the problems of all those who plan to join their lives to a village.

In support of these words, the chairman of the Association of Farmers of the Republic of Buryatia Bair Balzhirov said that in Siberia, farming is actively developing, and it is characterized by the same problems as for family homesteads. At the same time, farming is a large-scale process that forms a very favorable type of resettlement across the territory of Siberia.

“We have rural pastoralism, people go to the steppe and build farms there. We have no issue demolishing old farmhouses, but they have the official status of managers’ quarters. It is important for us, too, that these houses be recognised as official residential buildings, and settlements are given the official status of settlements. After all, in our understanding, a village centre is a village with a school, an outpatient clinic, a post office, a club, and shops. There should also a processing of farm products, in our case this is a dairy shop. And around that center, farms will be located,” said Balzhirov.

Meanwhile, statistics continue to show the extinction of rural areas. There are many reasons for this, both economic and social in nature. But the spatial development of the country requires both close attention and a long-term strategy — about that, the experts are sure.


First published in Russian on 16 May 2018

and 17 May 2018