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Socio-economic development of rural territories by the formation and development of family homestead settlements

Social and economic development of rural territories by the formation and development of family homestead settlements

Doctor of Economic Science
Professor, Department of Management and Marketing

and А. Е. KARPOV
Doctoral candidate, Department of Management and Marketing
Vladimir State University named after A.G. and N.G. Stoletov


This paper notes that the development of rural areas is a necessary condition for the sustainable social and economic development of the Russian Federation. An analysis is carried out of social and economic efficiency of formation and development of settlements of family homesteads as a new form of revival of rural territories.

Keywords: development of rural territories, sustainable social and economic development, family homesteads.

The degradation of rural areas and the ongoing process of urbanization are acute problems that need to be solved for the sake of long-term and sustainable social and economic development of our state. Currently, about 75% of Russia’s population lives in cities and while the countryside has become depopulated, urbanization continues. Only its nature has changed. The bulk of inhabitants of small provincial towns, primarily young people, seek to go to a large city for a “tall ruble” and a “beautiful life.” What will we come to, if the whole country gathers in megacities and their suburbs? After all, in major cities, the physical and spiritual health of the population is degrading, the birth rate is decreasing, the question of food security is sharply raised, the threats of environmental disasters are growing, the economy is becoming increasingly virtual, and therefore its stability in crises decreases. As a result, incessant urbanization introduces an imbalance in the development of Russia’s society and economy, which poses a huge threat to the future of our country.

The subject of this study is an analysis of the socio-economic efficiency of the formation and development of family homestead settlements as a new form of settlement of rural areas. From the year 2000 to present, several hundred settlements of family homesteads have been created and are developing in Russia. In 2007, D. A. Medvedev, in an Internet conference organized by Yandex, supported the initiative of family homestead creators: “In general, the idea of ​​family homesteads in the form in which it was formulated here is quite positive. It completely resonates with our ideas about low-rise, or single-storeyed Russia, in which we are now quite actively engaged as part of the housing project. … Obviously, on the scale of such a country as ours, with such huge land resources, it makes no sense to concentrate only on small parts of the earth, even megacities. It is much more useful both for health, and for the state, for the country to be dispersed throughout the territory of our vast state ” (Medvedev 2008).  

In the Belgorod and Bryansk regions, regional laws “On Family Farmsteads” were adopted, and in 2013 the State Duma drafted the federal law No. 269545-6 “On Family Farmsteads”. Thus, family homestead settlements are a developed public phenomenon on the national scale, which must be carefully studied with the help of socio-economic scientific disciplines. However, before proceeding in the analysis, it is necessary to dwell in more detail on some of the crisis aspects of the current state of the Russian economy and society, which can and should be addressed through the development of rural areas.

As research shows, agriculture is presently in deep crisis and cannot exist without state support. Many are nostalgic for Soviet times, in which “all fields were plowed and overgrown with weeds”. However, one of the results of this, according to the director of the Scientific Research Institute of Organic Fertilizers, P. D. Popov, is the loss of topsoil: “Losses of humus over the century from Dokuchaev to our days from the soils of the USSR are between 25 and 50%” (Palman 1991). These words, which he said in the 1980s, allow us to look at this question a little from a different point of view. It turns out that during the Soviet era there was a total degradation of land fertility, and in fact, national wealth that took millennia to form was being eaten away. Of course, it is sad to see agriculture defunct, but while the fields are resting and the earth is gaining strength, it is necessary to look for more reasonable approaches.

Author and agronomist VI. Palman, in his book When you walk on the grass…, writes with great love about wet-nursing the land and complains that “the prolonged depletion of the earth is not the result of thoughtless work on and with the soil, but when obligations to the Earth do not extend beyond the present day, when it is only to get a crop now, this summer, and what will happen next we’ll see … Take, drive, cart!” (Palman 1991:128). To remedy the situation in Soviet agriculture, he proposed strict observance of crop rotations, introducing organic substances into the soil to compensate for the loss of topsoil as a result of harvesting, and to develop protective forest belts. And here are the results that can be given: “In the fields protected by the forest, they have already almost doubled their grain yield for many years in comparison with farms where there is no forest protection. In a good year, this crop reaches 6 tons per hectare, like “Novis”, as they call the newly plowed virgin soil. Half a century of experience and here it is proved that the forest allows more productive use for the protected fields, with 20% more water than in the open steppe. No watering will give that much water over a season” (p. 107). However, even if we comply with all the recommendations of reasonable agriculture about crop rotation, introduction of organic substances, and protection of soil moisture by forests, the agro-industrial approach still leads to degradation of soil fertility: “… during the season the tractor passes through the southern fields up to 12-14 times … they are machines weighing from 4 to 12 tons each! In addition, … trucks collect the harvest … Another 5-7 runs … In science, a new concept as arisen: MDP, the machine degradation of soils. How can black earth keep its soil structure under such pressure? How to preserve microorganisms, worms and millipedes, which also work for the well-being and health of the soil? ” (p. 131).

Understanding of the economic importance of the role of forest plantations can also be found in pre-revolutionary books, for example, in the book of patriarch of Russian gardening, R. I. Shreder, Russian orchard, nursery and fruit garden, first published in 1877 and reprinted more than 10 times. “Forest glades, if only for the soil in them, represent the best locations for cultivating orchards, mainly apple and pear trees; such a forest clearing could also be considered convenient, iif protected by the remaining part of the forest; not only in the northern, but even more so in the southern provinces, such locations are considered the most profitable, often even the only ones suitable for the successful cultivation of orchards. It is known that the fruit-growing that used to exist in a considerable amount in the Kiev and Kharkov provinces gradually came to a complete decline due to the destruction of forests” (Shreder 1992). Member of the Imperial Free Economic Society, the beekeeper I. S. Kullanda, in his book The People’s Bee, published in 1882, in an artistic form with of a conversation between a learned German and a Russian peasant, explains: “Where forests are large, there is always moisture in the air, there is no such drought that the grass dries, that the earth is crackling from the heat and hard as a stone, but on the contrary, this moisture moderates in the summer with heat, in the winter it is frosty, the land is juicy from this, and from this juice, sun and air it all by itself wanders, ie. it decomposes its hard parts, prepares fresh fresh food for them from grain, in a word, it is recruited under the influence of fresh moisture. Where there are forests, there is no such frost there in the winter, that the earth is cracked by the cold, and lots of bread and gardens are freezing; and this again from the presence of moisture and from the fact that, since the tree does not freeze in winter, the forest, like millions of small ovens in it, warms the air and how the wall does not allow the “siewerk” to walk about. That’s why you have drought, scientists say, that’s why you have a cold; and you live only from the rains that the wind will bring to you. You were born with a loaf of foreign rain, then again you are driven to despair by beetles, flies and worms. And again, and this is your manager’s fault, scientists say. From Kiev you have always had dense forests everywhere; to the south of Kiev, say both your and our scientists, there were steppes with splendid grass; but the thick, tall grass, although not like a dense forest, also does not allow to dry up the earth, obscuring it and preventing the wind from drying. And now, I’m afraid, everything is plastered, everything is plowed up: the bright sun burns, and the dry wind blows through the rare stalks of bread (not that thick grass, which forms layers of humus from year to year): here is expanse and bugs and fly … And the worms, I heard, eat not only gardens, but even forests – naked. When you had large, dense forests, how many millions of insectivorous birds nested in them – and now, where are they?

Yes, not only bread, cattle, fat you fed from excessive excess of your neighbors, but even honey and wax you sold them hundreds of thousands of poods. And the marriage, which cheered the soul and heart, without killing the mind, is now replaced with vodka that is stupefying you. Well, and think about it, neighbor, himself, it’s sinful for you to complain about God, you yourself have brought yourself to the present misfortune, wagging and misleading the forest; Having exposed your land, you have deprived it of the life-giving juice, and then you pick it from year to year in a nutshell, so you have harvested such that you take home a cart from 3-4 dessiatins, as your great-grandfather drove with one tithe; and what’s yours today, what is the grain; but there is nothing to say about the cattle: everything is leaner, everything is hungry, and you yourself have become and skinny and hungry” (Kullanda 1882).

The next pressing question facing Russian society is the demographic crisis. “By the beginning of 2000, the population of Russia was declining – think only about these figures, you know about them well, but I return you to this tragedy – the population of Russia almost every year declined by 1 million people”, recalled the President of Russia V. V. Putin in his message to the Federal Assembly on 12.12.2012. Of course, the main cause of the demographic crisis was the political crisis that led to the destruction of the USSR and the collapse of the economies of the former Union republics. However, urbanisation is obvious and plays an important role here. First, for rural residents, unlike residents of large cities, it is always easier to switch to subsistence farming in order to survive a deep economic crisis. Secondly, in a city with a large family it is always more difficult to live because of the limited living space. It was as a result of urbanisation that our original tradition of having many children, which for centuries existed in Russia, was lost.

The ecological crisis is another serious obstacle to the sustainable development of Russia and the world. The famous ecologist A. D. Ursul, following the UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, said: “Heads of state and governments recognise all the gains of civilizations, including democracy and the market economy, without addressing the environmental problem — the threat of extinction. All the gains could disappear in the coming decades simply because humanity will be plunged into the abyss of an ecological catastrophe” (cited in Karlovich 2010).

Concentration of people in megacities leads to a huge load on the environment. The maximum permissible concentrations of harmful substances in the atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere in Moscow as a result of pollution by huge amounts of vehicle exhaust, industrial waste and daily waste were exceeded dozens of times, negatively affecting the health of city residents. However, the environmental aspect is more multifaceted,  including the impact on the environment of both large-scale industry and agriculture. The authors have already considered the agro-industrial crisis earlier, with the conclusion that modern agriculture does not factor towards sustainable development.

Moral and cultural degradation is another aspect of the Russian public crisis. Over the past 20-30 years, there has been a strong tendency to destroy the institution of the family, and lose patriotic self-awareness, with the spread of consumer and dependent psychology. All this directly affects the economic development of the country. The institute of the Family is the guarantor of the reproduction of labor resources. The patriotic self-consciousness of citizens who love their Homeland is necessary for full-fledged labor activity. A person who works only for a salary, will never work with full dedication, applying creativity or taking initiative.

It can be concluded that all of the above aspects of the socio-economic crisis are interrelated and are the result of distortions of the model of livelihood that has developed in our state. At the public level, concerning millions of people, there are no simple solutions that allow for immediate improvement. Nevertheless, there is an obvious action that must be taken by the Russian state and society for the sustainable development of the country – this is to stop the process of urbanisation, begin to settle over the vast territory of Russia and develop our provincial and rural areas.

Unfortunately, many Russian citizens consider rural life difficult and boring. And this the opinion not only of urban but also rural residents. This is a historical legacy of the era of industrialization, when huge industrial resources were needed for the development of industry and the state stimulated the migration of the rural population into the cities. In society, there is a negative image of a rural way of life. For example, the words “village” and “collective farmer”, are commonly used pejoratively and as as insults. However, many residents of megacities are thinking about moving to the countryside, realising that their life in the city resembles a “rat race”. Salaries in large cities are higher than in rural areas, but the cost of living is much higher. Megapolises offer more opportunities for cultural leisure and the development of children, but leaves much less free time to communicate with them. On the negative side of large cities, you can also add a complete food dependence, high competition in the labor market, and a dangerous habitat. Therefore, many dream of a “house in the village”, simple rural work, and a quiet life in harmony with nature. Thus the most important thing in Russia for rural development prospects, is to look for effective approaches at the state level.

In the opinion of the authors, the “family homestead settlement” plays an important role in solving the previously mentioned problems, which, according to an analytical survey by the Zircon Study Group (2012), account for 70% of the total number of new ecological settlements. Formation and development of family homestead settlements can be one of the new forms of revival of rural territories.

The idea of ​​the family homestead was set forth in artistic form in the “Ringing Cedars of Russia” series of books by writer V. N. Megre (1998-2010). In his opinion, the family homestead is a plot of land with an area of ​​about 1 hectare, on which a family resides, building a self-sufficient and sustainably growing ecosystem, in order to achieve food self-sufficiency and a favorable living environment. Let us designate several characteristic elements family homestead ideology:

  • the succession of the family
  • a favorable living environment for a family
  • respect for the environment and nature
  • indivisibility — the homestead is inherited by one of the children or grandchildren, and each young family creates its own family homestead
  • organic farming
  • diverse economic activity.

The larger area of ​​the family homestead in comparison with village or dacha plots is necessary for the creation of natural diversity. For example, 5-6000m2 can be occupied by a perennial forest plantation, 1-2000m2 of fruit garden, 200-500m2 of ornamental garden, 200-500m2 for a pond, 1-2000m2 for residential and outbuildings. A settlement of family homesteads is a village consisting of several dozen or hundreds of family homesteads adjoining each other or located in the immediate vicinity, and also includes fields and public facilities.

The draft federal law No. 269545-6 “On family farmsteads” contains the following definitions of the concepts “family homestead” and “family homestead settlement”, which in the study are called by the synonyms “family farmstead” and “family farmstead settlement”:

A family farmstead is a plot of land with an individual residential house and other structures of auxiliary use located on it, as well as perennial plantations, forest plantations, water bodies, animals and other property on which a person lives from generation to generation in his family (family line), leading a farmstead (hamlet) economy. A settlement of family farmsteads is a citizen-based population formation belonging to a populated areas consisting of both formed family farmsteads, and land plots intended for settling family farmsteads, as well as land for common, for the placement of infrastructure facilities, and other property belonging to the inhabitants of family farmstead settlements as public property.

The feasibility of developing the rural areas of Russia cannot be doubted; it is the basis for sustainable development of the state. Let us analyse the socio-economic efficiency of the model of settlements of family homesteads. Let’s start with agriculture, which is currently in a deep crisis. Intensification of the agrarian industry, massive deforestation of forests, and consumer attitude towards soil led to a drop in agrarian sector efficiency and a threaten the ecological situation. All these errors can be corrected by the scaled application the family homestead model. Perennial plantations on the territory of family homesteads and around settlements of family homesteads will restore fertility of soils and improve the water balance, which will lead to an increase in the yield and stability of food supply in case of sharp fluctuations in the climate. Thus, it is possible to effectively solve the problem of food security. As a model of smallholder management, the family homestead eliminates the degradation of soils by machinery (MDP) and other negative factors associated with intensive agricultural production.

In the old Russian tradition, before the mid-20th century, of having many children, families with 5-10 children were considered ordinary. Mass migration of rural residents to cities put an end to large Russian families. It is quite obvious that the roots of the tradition of having many children were in the rural way of life. In rural areas, compared to the city, there is a larger living space, which includes a farmstead plot and adjoining territories. In the countryside it is safer for children, since there are fewer vehicles and other unfavorable elements of the man-made environment. And, banally, it’s easier to feed all the children in a village, and, helping with housework, they can also contribute to food security. The mass return of Russian citizens to the rural way of life will help improve the demographic situation in the country. Family homesteads can play a key role here, because the cornerstone of the ideology of the family homestead is the continuation of the family and the creation of a favorable living environment for children. Improvement of the ecological situation is one of the basic goals of the family homestead. The development of a balanced natural landscape, including perennial plantations and water bodies, will help to overcome the ecological crisis. Returning to the rural way of life lays the foundations of the spiritual revival of society by returning to national traditions a high standard of morals and morality. In the urban environment, egoism and a consumer attitude to the surrounding world develops, with the desire to “get everything out of life”. In cities, the best qualities of the multi-national Russian people are lost, such as the strong family institution, the principles of mutual assistance, and mutual responsibility. The reason for this is clear, because in a highly concentrated situation of people, society becomes more competitive, and the consequences of individual destructive actions are not readily noticeable or obvious. In the countryside everything is in sight and any unseemly acts are immediately made public, therefore imposing serious moral obligations.

Family homesteads can become the basis for the development of self-government and small forms of entrepreneurship. As of 2013, Russia has created and developed about 250-300 settlements of family homesteads, each by an independent initiative group. The movement of family homestead creators does not have a managing or coordinating center, having only formed a few information centers (the Anastasia Foundation, the Rodovaya Zemlya and the Encyclopedia of the Environment of the Habitat), as well as numerous Internet sites and mailing lists, regional clubs of like-minded people, public associations and initiative groups. Thus, the participants of the movement represent the initiative of Russian society itself, demonstrating very strong skills of self-organization. Initiative groups for the formation of family homestead settlements independently solve issues around legal registration, roads and services, and construction of public infrastructure.

It is perhaps more reasonable to study the economic efficiency of the family homestead model from the standpoint of the household economy. According to E. A. Tyugasheva, the framework of classical economic theory “is invited only to study how the state gets richer or corporations get bigger. A modern textbook on economics teaches us how to become miserable and poor, so that somebody laughs at their luck”. It should also be remembered that “economic science has arisen, and to the present day has developed as a science of housekeeping. Oikos is the economy of people living under one roof. Oikonomike is the wise conduct of the household” (Tyugasheva 2002). The family homestead is primarily a way to improve the family’s well-being and create favorable conditions for its own dwelling land, rather than creating economic systems designed to serve the interests of oligarchic or power structures.

Residents of family homestead settlements have a wide choice of economic activities to provide their families with food and financial income, such as vegetable growing, horticulture, floriculture, seed production, nursery, mushrooming, beekeeping, poultry farming, fish farming, rural tourism, harvesting of wild plants, folk crafts, production of home furniture and interior items, educational events, etc. From established practice, we can note several types of economic activity that develop in settlements from the outset. Firstly, the construction of residential and economic buildings is most active in the first years of the settlement’s formation. Then, the activities expand to include beekeeping, fruit and forest tree nurseries, poultry (chickens, geese, ducks), Ivan chai, educational and cultural events for adults and children (seminars, meetings with interesting people, summer schools, children’s camps), ecologically clean vegetables, and sewn clothes. A wide range of folk crafts develops, such as pottery, weaving, birch bark products, barrels, etc.

The inhabitants of settlements spend their first years after establishment creating basic household amenities, building the necessary residential and household buildings, laying a garden, an orchard and a hedge. Having solved the initial issues of household accommodation, the settlers inevitably come to the questions of longer-term tasks of ensuring financial prosperity and the implementation of common projects. To solve the common questions of children’s upbringing and education, and to hold recreational events together, residents create cultural and educational centers with kindergartens, school classes, summer schools and children’s camps, various groups for children and adults can be organised. The activities of cultural and educational centers can be aimed both at creating an active social life with nearby settlements and developing the economy of local territories by carrying out paid activities, organising fairs, creating retail outlets, etc.

A vivid historical confirmation of the economic effectiveness of land resolutions might be the Homestead Act adopted by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln immediately after his rise to power in 1862. “With the Homestead Act, people became the real masters of the land. They felt self-confidence in their abilities. In a few short years they transformed their own country from a medium-sized, even backward, agrarian, based on raw materials, into one of the world’s leaders in economy, technology, science, education and many other fields” (Pavlov 2012).



Karlovich, I. A. 2010, Modern problems of regional geoecology. VGSU, Vladimir, 306 pp.

Kullanda, I. S. 1882, The National Bee. Typ. I.N. Grodkovskogo, Penza, 194 pp.

Medvedev, D. 2008, Internet conference with D. Medvedev, Moscow, viewed 19 April 2018.

Megre, V. N. 1998-2010, Ringing Cedars of Russia, book series, Dilya, St. Petersburg.

Palman, V. I. 1991, When you walk on the grass… Dyestki Literatur, Moscow, 143 pp.

Pavlov, M. Yu. 2012, “Innovative development of the economy: from the Homestead Act to electronic cottages and Wikinomics”, U.S.A and Canada: Economics, Politics, Culture, No. 12, pp. 49-60.

Putin, V. V. 2012, The President’s Address to the Federal Assembly, 12 December 2012, viewed 19 April 2018.

Shreder, R. I. 1992, Russian garden, nursery and fruit garden. Voskreseniye, Moscow, 880 pp.

Tyugashev, A. 2002, Economics of household and surrounding society, textbook, SibUPK, Novosibirsk.

Zircon Research Group 2012, Analytical review of ecological settlements in Russia, Zircon, Moscow.

Translated on 19 April 2018 by Kemble Walker,
Candidate for Master of Sustainability,
Faculty of Science, University of Sydney.

Originally published in Russian:

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