The Russian government has started a program to give away land in Siberia in an attempt to stop the population decline.
“Free land grants is a powerful potential for developing our Eastern territories and an opportunity to radically – almost six fold – increase the far eastern population from 6.4 million to 36 million people,” explained Alexander Galushka, who is in charge of the program.
People may receive fertile farmland or acres filled with trees “with the potential to sell timber.” VTSIOM public opinion research center found that about 30 million Russians are eager to take up the opportunity:
Some 28% said they wanted to organise individual self-reliance households on their land; 19% said they would like to become farmers while 16% said that the land grants was an opportunity for them to change their place of residence, said the press service of the Ministry for Far Eastern Development.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the proposal back in January. Each person can receive up to 2.5 acres of land. Demographics show only 1,100 people have moved to Siberia “over the past 12 months, while the number of people leaving has decreased from 27,000 to 20,000.” Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev hopes the program will continue the trend.
A few skeptics have voiced their worry over corruption. A similar program was put into place in the 1990s, but many of the vouchers ended up in “the hands of a few spectacularly rich tycoons.” These people fear the same thing will happen this time, but then the oligarchs will turn over the land to Chinese.
“It is yet another fraud by our bureaucrats,” lamented one blogger. “These pieces of land will be given to unknown people and then the land will be sold (sorry, given for rent for 100 years) to Chinese people.”
In January, after Putin announced the proposal, China Daily predicted Siberia will “see an increase in the number of Chinese immigrants.” One expert told the publication this region could “be the main exporter of green food to China.” The expert also said the proposal will boost Chinese immigration since “they could lease land from local residents.”
“It is just like that vouchers story in 1990s, at the end of which a couple of oligarchs will get hold of it and we’ll see 2-3 more agricultural oligarchs, who will hire Chinese people to work there,” wrote another Russian blogger.
Siberia is home to over six million people, but they are spread out across the region.
Independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said the program in the 1990s offered more land, but came with many problems. He doubts many will actually leave for such little land.
“I think this will end up nowhere as there will be no fools going there for the sake of a hectare of land,” he stated, adding:
The only thing is that it might possibly hold people that were going to leave the Far East. If you were to compare it to Stolypin, the difference is that Stolypin was giving a big plot of land as the person wanted to take 30 or 50 hectares, along with a favourable tax regime for foreseeable future. It worked even though it also had problems, because out of every hundred people that moved to Siberia, 30 people were coming back out. Now I can be confident that people won’t be going there; so we have the main question on how to stop people leaving. There is nothing much you can do to a hectare of land anyway. Yes you can feed your family, but there is no way you can start a serious business on a plot of land this small.