Rural Responses to Reform from Above: The Contemporary Period

David J. O’Brien, Stephen K. Wegren and Valeri V. Patsiorkovski


This paper focuses on responses of Russian rural households in four areas: (1) unemployment; (2) land relations; (3) food production and sales; and (4) sources of income. These four areas have provided the greatest opportunities and challenges for households and their ability to respond to them has had a substantial impact on household welfare. Our findings provide evidence that there was much more fundamental structural change in the social organization of Russia's rural economy during the ten years following the collapse of the Soviet Union than is generally recognized.

The last decade has witnessed a major shift in the types of enterprises in which individuals are employed and an equally significant shift in where households derive their incomes. The legacy of the Soviet agricultural model, the large enterprises, still exists, but as we have seen, households no longer are totally dependent upon them for their economic livelihood. During the 1990s, rural households made significant strides to become more economically independent from the large enterprises.

This change is twofold. First, households became more self-sustaining. At the beginning of the decade, households were merely able to use their own resources, mainly household labor and informal helping networks to survive. By the end of the 1990s, households and villages were beginning to show evidence of a more sustainable adaptation to a market economy. Second, this self-sustaining activity was due to an increase in food production from the household plot, and from higher volumes of food sales which increased both monetary income and household welfare. These two changes are no small achievement of agrarian reforms from above. However, the incremental steps by many households to find new sources of income has produced a new look in the village over time.

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