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Monday, 01 August 2016 10:37

The new york times: Russia’s Acres, if Not Its Locals

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OPYTNOE POLE, Russia — Perched in the cabin of a clunky Russian tractor, Li Chengbin, a 62-year-old peasant farmer from China, drove round and round in ever widening circles, plowing a field to get it ready for planting — and rejoicing at the opportunities offered by untamed lands in the Russian Far East almost empty of people.

 

Back home in China, he said, he never had a plot anywhere near as big as the 82-acre spread that he and his son now farm in Russia. The vast majority of China’s 300 million peasants have barely two acres. Mr. Li’s family farm in China is even smaller.

 

“In China, this much land would make me the biggest farmer in the country,” Mr. Li said, yanking a rusty lever to try to get his puffing tractor to go faster. He and his son had bought the tractor, along with other decrepit farming equipment, from the remnants of a defunct Soviet-era collective farm.

 

They got their land through an arrangement with a local woman who leases the formerly state farm property and lets Mr. Li and his son, Li Xin, farm it in return for cash.

 

The weather, scorching in summer and well below freezing in winter, is not much worse than what they are used to in northern China. But because most of the swampy land on the Russian side of the nearby border has never been drained, the area is infested with giant mosquitoes and other bothersome bugs. A swarm of hornets, attracted by the heat generated by Mr. Li’s tractor, enveloped the vehicle in a black cloud.

Among Russian nationalists in Moscow and other cities in the west of the country, the presence of Chinese farmers on Russian land in the Far East has stirred frenzied fear of a stealthy Chinese takeover. It is a perennial obsession that, despite increasingly warm relations between the two countries’ leaders, still exercises many Russian minds.

 

Here in the Far East, however, local officials and many residents, while grumbling that they cannot keep up with Chinese work habits, tend to see China and its vast pool of industrious labor as the best hope of developing impoverished regions that often feel neglected by Moscow.

Read 1905 times Last modified on Sunday, 30 October 2016 05:24

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