TRANSCRIPT:

Alright, so, I will be presenting about sustainable solutions in Russia, in particular in relation to:

Firstly, their urban green spaces.

Secondly, the dacha allotments which I’ve already mentioned today, which are also considered part of the urban area. So these are small plots of land which provide a significant portion of the entire food supply of the Russian Federation; and

Thirdly, a recent expansion of that program which involves allotting a full hectare of land, which is 10,000 square meters, to any citizen for the purpose of permanently moving out of the city and starting new settlements in land which is… in many cases has been underused since the fall of the Soviet Union.

So, Russia is obviously a different country to Australia, but it has some very interesting similarities, in particular its enormous land area, and also its enormous reliance on agriculture, and, like us, they are hoping to become the food bowl of Asia, to feed everyone in Asia, and to feed everyone in Europe. So we share that similar ambition to increase our export value.

What I’ve got… if a picture is worth a thousand words, then I have a six hundred thousand word essay to present to you right now, because what I’ve mostly done for the last couple of days is gotten together some imagery of the different people and things which are happening in the last 10 years.

Now I spent six months in Russia last year, which is where… well I studied anthropology for my undergrad and the main thing we do in anthropology is field work, and I think it would be fantastic to bring that more over into sustainability. So what I did independently last year was to do field work for six months in Russia in these settlements to see how people live.

Many of the techniques that they’re using are the same techniques that people are coming across when they’re talking about agroecology, when they’re talking about organic farming, and the beauty about this is that it is happening naturally. There’s no top-down influence, there’s no funding, there’s no research projects or anything required in order to stimulate people to go and do these things. All that’s been required is to give people the responsibility of the land that they’re on.

Naturally, when you have the responsibility, you don’t want to poison it, you want to make things efficient, especially if you’re poor, because Russia has been, in the last 20 years especially, pretty poor. For a lot of people, it means that their plots have been quite important for them actually to eat.

It’s also been a source of economic improvement when people can use their plots of land to cultivate honey, do their little berries and fruit preserves and things like that—value added products—that have meant that when they found themselves unemployed, they could still make a living and feed their family.

That was particularly big obviously at the end of the Soviet Union, when many people immediately found themselves out of work because a lot of the formerly state-owned enterprises and industries just shut down immediately. There was no work, everyone moved back to their dachas, and started growing food, and that’s been widely attributed as the main reason that massive imports of food aid were not required in Russia during that time.

So, I’m going to ask some questions to the floor right now. Can anyone see… what catches your eye among all of this imagery here? Can anyone call out…

“Tomatoes!”

Tomatoes, yes! Tomatoes are a very common crop, that’s true.

“People!”

“Community!”

People, community, exactly right!

Have you noticed anything about the way in which people are meeting? There are some good examples on that page right there.

“Circles”

Circles! Very important! In the dacha cooperative there is no boss. There is no leader. It meets on the basis of equality. So every member has an equal vote and equal say, and once the collective has come up with a decision, then it is simply implemented by someone who has been chosen to go and deliver the decision to whatever authorities are involved in that particular decision, whether it’s ‘We’re going to make a road here, we’re going to open up another plot there for more people to come move in’, or whatever decision it is in that situation.

Good. Anything else? What kind of things do you see?

“Are the decisions consensus or majority?”

Consensus is the answer. Did you want to expand on that distinction at all?

“Yes, just that it’s one of the hardest things with communal anything cooperative that you see it decision making pretty much, taking the next step is incredibly difficult with consensus.”

Yep, it’s a good point. A key difference between a commune situation here is that there is a sense of individual ownership over each plot that they’re dealing with, and what I have found from my research is that over time, a culture of consensus decision making becomes easier. So for example… Anything to add there at all, David, or no?

“I was speculating that that might be the case, that there might be cultural conditions which would lead to more efficient consensual decision making practice, on the basis of their political background, it might be deeply in the culture, and be more efficient about it. “

That’s definitely true. I haven’t looked at all the sociology behind it, but just anecdotally, having had the experience of tsars, and then effective tsars in Stalin and so forth, there’s not a big culture of saying, “No, no, no, not that!” There’s more of a culture of just going on with the prevailing … if there’s someone who’s sort of leading the thing, they’ll sort of let that person lead the thing and then just put in little suggestions here and there to try and shape the process. But technically speaking, it’s consensus, so if someone has an issue with something, then that kinda has to be resolved before the decision goes forward.

So that was circles. What else can we see?

“Kids”

Children! Yes. What would happen for a child, if a child was involved in, for example, planting a garden, or planting a particular tree or something like that?

“Transmission of knowledge”

Transmission of knowledge, yes, very good, anything else?

“Awareness”

Awareness, yep.

“Stewardship. It becomes theirs and so they look after it.”

Definitely. They’re not going to cut down that tree! And they’re also going to have more of a link to that land, they’re not going to let it go into disrepair later in life.

“It’s very low tech”

It’s very low tech. What would that mean?

“Low cost”

Low cost, exactly.

“No chemicals”

No chemicals, exactly right. What kind of things would that consequently…

“Safe”

Safe. Yep.

“More nutritious”

More nutritious food. Yep, great.

How am I going for time. Oh my god, I’m already 8 minutes thirty so I guess we’ve combined my 5 minutes and my 3 minutes.

Good, well this has been my presentation on sustainability solutions … And just those statistics that I had up before.

[In Russia in 2016, 78% of potatoes, 67% of vegetables, and 74% of fruit and berries were produced by “Household agricultural enterprises”: private subsidiary and other plots in rural and urban settlements, individual citizen’s farms with land plots at horticultural, garden and dacha (cottage) associations.]

Wow there are really a lot of photos.

“I have two questions. Who decides who gets which land? Because some lands are better than others.”

That’s true. In the dacha system, it was basically on local governments to allocate. Now as we know in the Soviet Union, there was nepotism involved, they would help their friends and their family out. That was just how it happened. So oftentimes, yeah, it would be the friends and the family of the mayor who would get the good lands. But still, anyone could get a piece of land.

The thing to remember in Russia is the other similarity with Australia, that we have this big environmental challenge. Russia has the very, very cold winters; Australia has the very dry environment. The difference being, it means nonetheless that there is actually less fertility variation in Russia, I mean the soil is, not uniformly, but pretty uniformly along the whole main populated area, is pretty good. But that’s definitely an issue.

In the newer system that they only started in 2017, in February, there is an online portal, that you log in with your citizenship details, and you literally just… there’s a map of available plots, and you choose which plot you want, and then you start the process of doing the paperwork, you have a five year probationary period, and if you use it for those five years, then you get it registered as your ownership.

“Just on that, though, that’s a plot for a family, right, so how does it work if the two parents of that family are separated? Are women entitled to as much land as men?”

Yes, yes. Any citizen, it’s done on the basis of an individual.

“A citizen”

Yep. Or a foreigner who wants to get, I think a residency permit, but yep, any individual certainly.

“As the world population keeps growing, and we will need more and more land. Is this sustainable?”

In terms of…

“Area of land. More people would need more land, but we also need land to build their houses on.”

Well that’s a huge thing, that’s what I’m doing my whole degree thesis on, is the sustainability of this program. In terms of land use, I think it is, and that’s what I need to show, because I think that this is a more efficient land use than if you live in a unit where you need a mine, and you need a farm, and you need a factory, and you need all this kind of stuff. But that’s going to have to be for me to show.

In terms of the land area, Russia has the second most arable land per person out of any country in the world.

[Editor’s note: wrong, sorry, Russia is fifth on the list, and it has 0.86 arable hectares per person. Nonetheless, it’s true that:]

They can easily, five or six times over, accommodate their entire population on hectare plots like this.

Can anyone tell me which country has the most arable land per person out of any country in the world?

“New Zealand?”

No.

Any guesses at all?

“Brazil?”

Brazil, no.

“United States or Mexico?”

By almost a factor of two. The number one has two hectares of arable land per person. Number two is Russia, they have 1.14 something like that, hectares of arable land per person. [Wrong again, I’m afraid. Second place has 1.7 hectares per person whereas first place has 2 hectares per person.]

Number one, is…

“Is it here?”

“Australia”

It’s Australia! The most arable land per person out of any country in the world. Least population density out of any country in the world. Right here in Australia.

“So you think we should do it here.”

My suggestion humbly is that the research would suggest that this would be a beneficial development policy for Australia and the world, yes.