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Assess the Reasons for the Stagnation of Russian Agriculture Between 1860 and 1914

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Assess the reasons for the stagnation of Russian Agriculture between 1860 and 1914

One reason for the Tsar’s decision to emancipate the serfs was to increase agricultural production. It was hoped that freedom would encourage a hardworking and entrepreneurial spirit, which would result in increased agricultural output. However, little changed in terms of agricultural methods largely because the local peasant committees (mirs) were reluctant to change and enforced the traditional 3 crop strip system. Further reforms were introduced by Stolypin between 1906 and 1911 in an attempt to encourage peasants to buy land and free themselves from the mirs. These reforms were largely ineffective as only 10% of peasant households setup fully independent and consolidated farms.

Though legally free, the newly emancipated peasants were now under the control of the mirs and were burdened by the need to pay for their land allotment through redemption taxation. In addition to enforcing traditional and inefficient farming practices the mirs continued the pre emancipation landowners’ policy of encouraging large families. This resulted in rural overpopulation, which along with the need to sell grain to pay the redemption taxes caused chronic food shortages and frequent famines. Over population also meant that the peasants’ land sometimes had to be repartitioned. There was little incentive for a peasant to improve their strips of land if it was likely to be repartitioned or reallocated in the future.

Despite the stagnation of mir controlled agriculture in the years following emancipation some peasants were able to purchase land and create consolidated farms. The Peasant Land Bank was a state owned bank which leant money to peasants for land purchase. These peasants who gained land could modernize, diversify and specialize production to maximise yields, and were known as Kulaks. Between 1877 and 1905 over 18.5 million hectares of land was purchased by peasants using Land Bank loans. In an attempt to increase agricultural production and as a solution to rural overcrowding, Russia opened up more land for farming by encouraging peasants to move to Siberia and central Asia .The resettlement Administration was set up to aid this migration and over 1 million people made the journey east. The new lands, however, were inefficiently farmed and did not produce a significant surplus.

There was some modernization during this period, which was closely linked the the growth of the railway system. The railways transported grain to the cities and for export, and brought modern agricultural machinery to the countryside. Between 1900 and 1909 imports of agricultural machinery more than doubled and between 1900 and 1912 domestic machinery quadrupled. Modernization of farming largely took place on the large estates of the nobility and only happened in areas with close access to the railways. New crops such as potatoes, sugar beet and fodder crops were grown in some regions, which allowed movement away from the 3 crop rotation system. These changes were adopted by some Kulaks but had little effect on the mir controlled farms.

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