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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Putin urges sale of Russian farms
Man ploughing a field with a horse
Russia has difficulty meeting its agricultural needs
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James Schofield
in Moscow
line

Russia is poised to sell off its farm land for the first time since the 1917 revolution.

President Vladimir Putin has called for the land reform to be approved quickly, but he's in for a fight with the Communists, who have been blocking the move for a decade.

He has conceded that it may be necessary to ban foreign ownership of agricultural land.

On Monday, the Russian parliament began debating a new law that will legalise the sale of agricultural land for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

The draft law could eventually lead to the sale of over 400 million hectares, an area half the size of Brazil.

Bankrupt

Most land in Russia is currently owned by the state or held by collectives

The sale or purchase of land is prohibited.

That has proved disastrous and more than half of Russia's farms are bankrupt.

The proposed legislation is vital for the development of the agricultural economy.

Without safe ownership rights, few investors will commit the enormous sums needed to modernise farms and improve productivity after a decade of drastic decline in the sector.

The draft guarantees that the land must be used exclusively for agriculture and only belong to those able to work it.

It also restricts foreign ownership of farm land.

Controversy

The sale of land is a highly sensitive political issue. Last year's legalisation of urban and commercial sales sparked outrage and brought politicians to blows during debates.

While liberals argue that the law is an important part of overall market reforms, communists and nationalists fear that foreigners will snap up the best land and that it could hurt Russia's peasant farmers.

President Putin has recognised the controversy and vowed that foreign ownership will not be allowed until there is a national consensus.

But that will not be easy and the president has also thrown his full weight behind the law urging top aides to adopt the draft quickly.

He said that the price of letting land lie idle for the economy and society is high.

See also:

08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Russia
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