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Russian official outlines plans for first farms census in 80 years
Source: Vremya MN, Moscow, in Russian 10 Jun 03

Russia is preparing to carry out its first proper agricultural census since 1920 and should be ready by 2006, a senior statistics official has told a national newspaper. The radical shift in Russian agriculture from state to private sector over the past 10 years needs to be quantified. Also, if a census is not carried out soon Russia will fall foul of UN statistical commitments and will be removed from international comparison tables. The following is an excerpt from an interview with the first deputy chairman of the State Statistics Committee, published by the newspaper Vremya MN on 10 June, with subheadings added editorially:

In an exclusive interview, Konstantin Laykam, the first deputy chairman of Goskomstat [State Statistics Committee], told Vremya MN about the distinctive features of the upcoming census.

Russian agriculture shifts from state to private

[Question] When was the last agricultural census taken, and how does it differ from the recent regular census?

[Laykam] The last agricultural census in Russia was in 1920. Specialized censuses were conducted several times afterwards. They collected information about the sown area on private farms in 1964, 1976 and 1985, for example, about fruit trees, berry fields and vineyards in 1970 and 1984, and about livestock in 1996. There was no need for a complete census, because the information about kolkhozes and sovkhozes [collective and state farms respectively] was readily available in general statistics. Forms were sent to the farms and were filled in there. In the last 10 years, however, rural areas have undergone serious structural changes. Whereas our main producers at the beginning of the 1990s were large commercial enterprises accounting for three-quarters of the total agricultural product, by the end of the decade more than half of this product was being supplied by private farms.

There were even more serious changes in the case of specific products. By 2002, the population was growing 93 per cent of the potatoes, 82 per cent of the vegetables, and 89 per cent of the fruits and berries. Private farmers were supplying the country with 12 per cent of its grain, 20 per cent of its sunflowers, and 7 per cent of its sugar beets. The population's share of production rose to 55 per cent for livestock and poultry and 50 per cent for milk.

Almost all of the potatoes in the country are grown by private farmers! A multistructured economy has taken shape in Russian agriculture and is developing dynamically: agricultural organizations, private farms, self-employed entrepreneurs, and the private plots of the population. The structure of production has changed radically, of course. In 1990, large farms represented 74 per cent of the total, and private farms represented 26 per cent. In 2002, private farmers were already responsible for 53.8 per cent of the total product! That is why our general statistics now show us only 40 per cent of this iceberg. We have to develop a precise system of statistical sample groups, and we will have to have all of the general data before we can do this. We will have these data after the first fundamental census, which is being organized now.

Why the census is needed

[Question] To what extent is the agricultural census Russia's "personal" business?

[Laykam] If we wait much longer, we will be told that we have no right to be included in international comparisons. The Russian Federation is party to numerous international conventions, and we have signed all of the pertinent treaties. In particular, we have standard statistical forms and procedures. We simply must start sending data on a regular basis to the UN FAO - the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Agricultural censuses already have been conducted in 130 countries. We are at the tail end of this process, along with Laos. This is absolutely inappropriate for a great power. Besides, we are just beginning our preparations for the census and will not be able to conduct it until 2006. The preparations are highly complex: We have to start, for example, by passing the appropriate law.

[Question] Is the law that served as the basis for the recent census inadequate?

[Laykam] It applies only to the population census. In this case, we will be collecting all of the information about agriculture. People will have to tell us about their business.

[Question] How strictly is privacy being guarded?

[Laykam] The state is quite concerned about privacy, and for this reason, the data will be anonymous. This alone will exclude the possibility that the census results will be used by organized crime.

[Passage omitted]

[Question] Are there data on the different types of agricultural producers to be included in the census?

[Laykam] In all, we will survey about 25,000 large and medium enterprises, 8,000 small ones, 250,000 private farmers, and 16m private subsidiary plots. Almost the same number of families grow their own fruits and vegetables. There are also some less common types: the subsidiary plots of security agencies, the experimental farms. We still have not decided whether we will include the 5m parcels of land for which building permits have been secured. In cities and towns, people have homes with gardens where they grow most of their food. We will have to estimate the actual contribution of each type of agricultural producer to the country's total food supply.

[Question] How often are agricultural censuses taken abroad?

[Laykam] Every five to 10 years.

Administrative considerations and cost

[Question] What kind of questions will the census include?

[Laykam] We have not made any final decisions yet. The census form will be divided into sections in accordance with international recommendations. The UN FAO recommends nine questions: "Information about the farm, the main demographic characteristics of the owner and his household, employment, land resources, agricultural crops, agricultural livestock, vehicles and equipment, buildings and other structures, and non-agricultural types of activity." Will we add anything to this list? We might include questions about the social infrastructure. I think there will be about eight pages of questions, so that we can learn how far the farms are from schools, good roads, hospitals, and transport services for agricultural producers. Everything will depend on our supply of personnel and resources. We plan to conduct a pilot study in two districts in 2004, probably in Moscow and Belgorod Regions. We will conduct a trial census in four regions of the federation in autumn that same year.

[Passage omitted]

[Question] What will the census cost the treasury?

[Laykam] This is a fairly expensive undertaking. According to preliminary estimates, the cost of taking the census, processing the information, and publishing the results will amount to R3.8bn in federal budget funds in 2005-2007. The preparations and the trial census will cost R38m. We have virtually no need to buy equipment, because we still have the equipment from the last [general] census: scanners and computers. The money will be needed primarily for training and wages.

[Passage omitted]

[Question] What is your biggest fear? What do you hope to avoid?

[Laykam] The main thing is that we have to win people's trust in the census. Besides this, we are now studying world experience carefully, particularly the censuses in Poland and Estonia. There is no question, however, that Russia is on a completely different level.

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