The Influence of "Family" on Agrarian Structure: Revisiting the Family Farm Debate in Bulgaria and Southern Russia

Article excerpt


The development of "family farming" was a hot topic in studies of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in the early 1990s. Proponents saw the creation of Western, family-style farms as the antidote to the low productivity characterising the large-scale Soviet structures (Lerman, 1998). Early anticipation of a quick fix through "shock therapy" soon receded into arguments over the causes of the apparent failure of privatisation reforms (Stiglitz, 1999; Wegren, 1998). National agricultural production levels in all CEE states dropped rapidly in the early 1990s as a result of system instability, sometimes to as low as 30% of their 1989 levels (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], 1998). As of 1998, although agricultural production had started to rebound, none of the CEE countries had regained their 1989 production levels (OECD, 1998). Neither did family farming appear to any degree. Despite widely varying land privatisation programmes and national policy structures, agriculture across CEE is marked by dualism--the unexpected resilience of large-scale, Soviet-style structures, and an increase in the number of small-scale, almost subsistence-style, agricultural units (Swain, 2000).

In engaging in a discussion of structural change in Central and Eastern Europe, this article focuses on the social relations of production that are influencing the evolution of independent and co-operative farms. This is in direct contrast to recent analyses of structural change in agriculture in CEE that have largely focussed at the macro level: evaluations of the relative productivity of independent versus co-operative agriculture (Mathijs and Vranken, 2000; Sarris et al., 1999; Thiele and Brodersen, 1999), and analysis of the political economy of agrarian reforms (Swinnen, 1997). The connection between farm and family is foundational to studies of agrarian structural change in the West, but has had little if any exploration in Central and Eastern Europe to date. The term "family" as utilised in this article is a metaphor for two fundamental aspects of Western family farming: access to resources through kinship ties and the reproduction of the joint farm and family unit across generations. These themes emerged from an inductive study of agrarian livelihood strategies in Bulgaria and southern Russia, and were then analysed in reference to similar literature on family farming.

The lack of "cross-fertilisation" in the literatures on family farming and agrarian change in Central and Eastern Europe may in part be due to the notable differences in starting position for the agrarian change processes. As Bezemer (2002) discussed, the Soviet governments actively destroyed the peasant structures that served as foundations for agrarian transition in the West. Quite simply, there were no peasant holdings from which family farming could evolve. The impetus to bring the literature on family farming into the discussion of agrarian change in CEE in this study arose from earlier work by the author (Small, 2002). In this study of social capital in the Moscow region, it became clear that revitalised collective farms continued to play a major social role in community life through ongoing support to social services and cultural events. Moreover, the few independent farms in the region had social relations similar to those of Western family farms. It is these issues of social relations of production, from the perspective of the producers (rather than the enterprise management), which are explored in the study presented here.

In discussing the influence of family on the structural changes in agriculture, the question inevitably arises of the extent to which the farming enterprises in the study sites can be considered family farms. The intent of this article is not to evaluate progress toward this apparent ideal. Independent farms are anomalies throughout most of Central and Eastern Europe and appear likely to remain so in the study sites. …