Russian Far East Region Boots Chinese Farmers in Favor of N. Koreans

Migrant farmers from China won’t be allowed to cultivate land in the Amur Oblast region of Russia’s far east beginning next year, according to an official announcement Monday reported China’s North News in Inner Mongolia.

The Chinese farmers, who had been filling the quota of 136 migrant farmer slots, will be replaced by farmers from North Korea and central Asian nations. The Chinese are said to have violated local laws by using pesticides, manure for fertilizer and other banned substances. They are also accused of having littered the farms with trash.

The more important reason behind the eviction of the Chinese farmers may be the cooperative agreement Amur Oblast (federal subject) has signed recently with North Korea on agriculture, civil engineering, timber processing and construction.

Earlier Chinese migrant farmers had also been banned by the cities of Krasnoyarsk in eastern Siberia, Chelyabinsk east of the Urals, and Nizhny Novgorod in western Russia, the nation’s fifth-largest city.

Amur Oblast is one of Russia’s most sparsely populated regions with a population of just 830,000 on an area the size of Japan or Montana, giving it a population density of just 5.9 per square mile. In an effort to utilize more of its agricultural lands the state government has been admitting migrant farmers from China, N. Korea and a number of other nations. It has also begun signing deals with agricultural firms from South Korea and Japan. Still Chinese farmers continue to produce nearly 90% of all vegetables sold in the Russian far east.

Because about a quarter of Russia’s eastern farmlands has fallen into disuse, local governments have rented out millions of hectares to foreign farmers at rates as low as 50 rules ($1.60) per hectare. The farmers are allowed to export the harvest to their home countries.

Chinese, who had begun farming in border regions since the 1990s, make up about 30% of the 160,000 foreign agricultural workers in the Russian far east but are facing growing competition from South Korean and Japanese agricultural firms.

In all about 400-500,000 Chinese immigrants live in Russia, making up only a small fraction of the estimated migrant population estimated at between 7 and 14 million. Most migrant workers come from former Soviet republics in central Asia but an increasing number are also from southeast Asia. Russia needs an estimated one to two million new workers each year just to make up for the outflow of Russians, especially from rural regions.

For China’s farmers Russia offers more than vast stretches of arable land — it offers a relative abundance of women compared with China in which men face a severe shortage of women due to the one-child policy and a traditional preference for sons. Many women in rural China migrate to cities, leaving many Chinese farmers without the prospects for marriage.

At current rates of legal and illegal migration, Russia’s Chinese population is projected to grow to about 10 million by 2050, making it the second largest after ethnic Russians. The trend has alarmed some Russians, adding to the motivation of local governments in the nation’s far east to encourage an influx of businesses and migrants from other, less threatening nations.