Russia has again returned to an active discussion of the topic of abandoned agricultural land – there are at least 15-17 million hectares of such in the country. It is often impossible to return them to circulation because the land formally has an owner. Earlier, a law has already been passed, according to which negligent owners may face an administrative fine, and then the seizure of plots through the courts. At the beginning of the week, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that it had prepared amendments that should speed up the procedure – in particular, resolve the issue of the owners’ failure to appear in court. Izvestia learned how effective such measures could be from the farmer and from a lawyer.
The total area of vacant agricultural land in Russia today is, according to various estimates, up to 40 million hectares. The data of the agricultural census, conducted in 2016, made it possible to speak of almost 17.7 million hectares belonging to agricultural enterprises, but not in demand by them. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, announced by the department in 2021, by 2019, their area was about 15.3 million hectares.
At the same time, the problem of unused land has been actively discussed since the early 2010s.
In 2013, Russia introduced fines for owners who do not use agricultural land for their intended purpose, in the amount of 3,000 to 500,000 rubles.
In 2015, in his next message to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin drew attention to the problem, who instructed to resolve the issue of returning agricultural land to circulation. In pursuance of this order, in 2016, in article 6 of the federal law “On the turnover of agricultural land”, the procedure for the seizure of such land was prescribed. The period after which the land was declared unused was then proposed to be reduced from five to two years.
At the same time, a program of inventory of such land was launched in the regions.
At the beginning of 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture presented a draft of a new state program – according to it, in particular, it was proposed to abandon the long examination, which was to be carried out by Rosreestr before the withdrawal.
In the new document, which became known to Izvestia in February of this year, the relevant department proposed several more innovations.
“The current procedure for determining land shares unclaimed delays the procedure for acquiring them into municipal ownership and putting them into circulation, and often makes it impossible, since the recognition of land unclaimed is carried out by municipal authorities in court in the course of action in the absence, as a rule, of a defendant whose location is unknown.” , – the document explains the reason for the development of the bill.
In addition, the note notes, there is no mechanism for returning the land to agricultural use in the event that the owner refused it.
To solve these problems, the department proposed, in particular, to introduce the term “ownerless land”. It is proposed to consider such plots, the owners of which are unknown or have given up their ownership rights, as well as lands that by 2025 will not be registered in the Unified State Register of Real Estate Rights.
According to the authors of the document, the right to such plots will be obtained by the municipal authorities through the courts, but according to a simplified procedure, the presence of the owner is not required for this.
In addition, the department proposes to allow land to be recognized as escheated property, the owner of which has died, and the heirs are not declared or refused to inherit, and to provide for separate mechanisms for the land in common ownership.
Finally, it is proposed to introduce separate rules for the use of valuable and especially valuable agricultural lands – their lists and boundaries will have to be approved at the level of subjects with entry into the Unified State Register of Real Estate. It will be prohibited to conduct geological exploration of the subsoil on them, prospecting and mining of minerals.
The regions have been trying to resolve this issue in one way or another for several years. The experience of the Bryansk region was recognized as one of the most successful – it was precisely as “production leaders” that its representatives attended the thematic parliamentary hearings that took place in Moscow in 2019.
– Every year we put into circulation about 50 thousand hectares. Now we have 90% of arable land, 10% must be started up. This is in the area of 112 thousand hectares, in two years we will defeat it, – said the director of the Bryansk agro-industrial holding Dobronravov AGRO Dmitry Dobronravov.
Later, these forecasts were confirmed by the regional government. So, at the beginning of 2020, they said that 82% of the total agricultural area was already used in the region. 312 thousand hectares are not used, while in 2020 it was planned to put into circulation another 50 thousand hectares, and fully complete the work during 2020-2021.
The areas in question vary from region to region. So, similar plans are adhered to in the Moscow region – last year they announced that they plan to return all abandoned lands to agricultural use by 2021. At the same time, the acting Minister of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region, Sergei Voskresensky, then said that since 2014, 424 thousand hectares of land have been returned to circulation, according to his calculations, this is 90% of all vacant land.
Izvestia contacted regional governments with the question of whether it is still planned to achieve these indicators in 2021.
In the Smolensk region, 1.8 thousand hectares were seized in the period from 2014 to 2020. In the entire Far East, almost 3 million hectares of agricultural land were recognized as unused during the inventory, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East reported this in March 2020.
At the same time, part of these lands became empty as a result of natural processes, experts previously explained in a conversation with Izvestia.
– There are always marginal lands that are removed from circulation when it becomes unprofitable to use them. In Soviet times, there was an attitude within which they tried to plow everything up to the Arctic Circle. When the country switched to a market model, naturally, a lot of such land turned out to be marginal, that is, simply economically ineffective, ” noted then Evgenia Serova, Director for Agrarian Policy of the Higher School of Economics.
“Abandoned is not needed by anyone”
The law is definitely needed, the need for it is long overdue, says Sergei Balaev, deputy chairman of the Moscow Peasant Union. But the situation is twofold.
– There are two scenarios here. The first is when people actually wanted to use the land, but they didn’t have enough money, maybe the covid got in the way, ”he warns. – And they would have a little more, and they really will start working on it. The second is when lands were bought, for example, for dachas for a pittance, dachas for some reason were not built, and now the land simply stands. It is desirable for the law to work in this case, but not hit the first.
When it comes to the seizure of land, it is almost impossible to avoid abuse, agrees a lawyer, specialist in land law Maria Sviridova.
– No matter how good the goals may be, in practice they are often not interested in really problem areas. Abandoned is not needed by anyone. Everyone is worried about the land, which is of commercial value. Therefore, without problems, unfortunately, this is still the exception, not the rule, she notes.
In addition, in Russia “the system for alerting heirs is not working perfectly,” and people may simply not know about the property they are entitled to, she draws attention. Therefore, you will first need to solve this problem. Difficulties may arise for those who simply did not have time to register ownership of land in remote or inaccessible settlements.
In order to protect the interests of farmers who found themselves in a difficult situation and therefore did not start cultivating the land on time (according to the law, work must be started in the first year), Sergey Balaev believes, it is important that all decisions are made at the level of local authorities, regional ministries of agriculture, “which I want to believe that everyone knows their farmers ”.
Photo: Izvestia / Alexander Polegenko