Fruits of the Earth: Agriculture, Hunting, Fishing, and Forestry

Although only about 5% of Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) is produced by agriculture and another 5% by forestry, these two activities are strategic. These primary sectors of the economy are sometimes dismissed as “primitive” or even “irrelevant” by sophisticated postindustrial economists. Yet all of us need to eat. We need lumber and paper provided by forestry. In Russian society 100 years ago, 80% of the people were peasants. These people lived close to the land, growing food and cutting timber. Fishing and hunting supplemented protein from domestic meat sources. Today 15% of workers in Russia are employed in forestry or agriculture; this remains a much higher rate than in the West, where it is under 3%, but it is of course much lower than 100 years ago. Some discussion of village life and of settlement patterns in rural Russia and the U.S.S.R. has been provided in Chapter 11. Here I consider the impact of recent reforms on the current situation in agriculture, hunting, fishing, and timber harvesting.

Soviet Agriculture and the Post-Soviet Transition Period

Patterns of Agricultural Production Today

Food Imports and the Future of Russian Agriculture

Hunting and Freshwater Fishing

Marine Fisheries

Timber Production

Review Questions

  1. Name the main two types of agricultural enterprises during the Soviet period. How would they be different from a small family farm in the United States or France today? How would they differ from the large agribusinesses common in the West today?
  2. What are the main grains grown in Russia? Where do they grow, and why are these specific ones grown?
  3. Explain why U.S.-style family farms have had a hard time emerging in post-Soviet Russia.
  4. What are the main forms of meat eaten in the FSU? How do these differ from those eaten in your home country? What might be the reasons?
  5. What areas of the FSU have good freshwater fishing potential?
  6. Name some important seafood harvested by Russia. Can you find any Russian seafood imports at your local store?
  7. Explain what role hunting plays in the Russian culture and economy. What are the commonly hunted animals? Are they similar to the ones hunted in the area where you live?
  8. What are the main timber-producing species in Russian forests?
  9. Why are so few logs processed into lumber in Russia?
  10. What needs to be done to improve the long-term sustainability of the Russian forest industry?


  1. Search FAOSTAT (see Websites) for any three agricultural products in any three FSU republics over a number of years (e.g., 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005). For instance, try wheat, watermelons, and cattle in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Graph the data and describe the patterns that you see. What may be the reasons for the similarities and differences?
  2. If you live in an agricultural area, find out whether any local company or organization has done scientific or technological exchanges with Russia or other FSU nations (e.g., methods of low-impact tillage, organic farming, pest management programs, marketing, etc.). What were the results of such exchanges? Make suggestions on how to improve such exchanges in the future.
  3. Use Google Earth to investigate the extent of clearcuts in the Karelia Republic of Russia. A good place to start would be areas west of Kondopoga. You can also try Arkhangelsk Oblast. Compare the patterns of timber cuts in terms of relative size, shape, and percentage of area cut to any area in Oregon, Washington, or Maine. What are the similarities? What are the differences? Which forests seem more affected—Russian or U.S.? Why?
  4. Find out whether any companies you know carry products made from timber produced in the FSU. Are these products Forest Stewardship Council-certified? Would you buy them if they weren't?
  5. Do you think the rise in foreign ownership of Russian timber processors is good or bad for the Russian forests? Should foreign companies be allowed to buy land in the country?
  6. Investigate the Websites of a few large Russian lumber mills or PPMs mentioned in this chapter. How many of them have web pages in English? How many have a policy on sustainability? Would you invest in them? Why or why not?