The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

Post-Soviet Harvests; understanding uneven rural recovery in the post-Soviet region 

Project leader: Susanne Wengle
Starting year: 2020
Project type: Project

In the 1990s, post-Soviet rural economies suffered from a staggering decline in production and accelerating outmigration. Since the early 2000s, some agricultural producers have managed to reverse decline and are thriving: they have updated production facilities, improved productivity, increased production and exports. Ukrainian corn harvests are plentiful, for example, Russian meat producers are booming, and Armenian fruit are exported in abundance. Plentiful harvest and rural recoveries have a potentially significant development impact in these countries, many with sizeable rural populations. They are also very uneven – recovery has happened only in some subsectors, in geographically and institutionally diverse countries, and not at all in others. What explains why some subsectors, in some countries are thriving, while others have been unable to make ends meet? My research examines sources and patterns of rural recovery in post-Soviet countries. One aspect of this recovery is particularly interesting from the perspective of dominant theories in political economy: growth has happened despite what are described as “weak” governance institutions in nearly all of these countries. The project’s ambitions are thus empirical and theoretical: it aims to shed light on recent trends across the whole post-Soviet region and in various types of agricultural production (field-crops, livestock, and horticulture). Trends in post-Soviet agriculture remain understudied, in part because they are so dynamic, and in part because the oil and gas sectors have absorbed scholarly attention. My research also engages with theories on the conditions for economic growth in the region and sustainable rural development more generally. Agricultural production is inherently risky and has become intensely competitive after successive rounds of trade liberalisation. Insights related to the conditions under which rural economies can thrive in the 21st century answers thus important beyond the post-Soviet region. The methodological pillars of the project are the following: the research is designed as a cross-country, intra-regional comparison that utilises a combination of detailed quantitative data on trends in different sub-sectors over the period of nearly 20 years (2000 to 2019). Based on the outcome of this quantitative analysis, I will select 3-4 economies for in-depth cases studies based on qualitative data gathered in stakeholder interviews.