Russian Far East region allocates half million hectares for free land handover program

© Igor Ageyenko
Property minister of the Amur Region in the Russian Far East has told reporters that the authorities had allocated 500,000 hectares of land for the free handover to anyone willing to start a business in agriculture or tourism.

We have allocated 500,000 hectares of planted forests and 50,000 of agricultural lands for the program. Of the 50,000 hectares, about one third is tilled soil, the rest are pastures and hayfields,” Sergey Khovrat was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

The minister also told reporters that so far only 10 people had announced their interest in the free land handover program, all of them beekeepers who already owned some land in the region.

READ MORE: Land of plenty: Duma committee approves bill for free handover of Russian territory to foreigners

The Amur Region launched its own free land handover program in March 2015. It is slightly different from the federal Russian program that offers free land in the Far East and Siberia. In particular the size of land plots is bigger – 2.5 hectares for private use and up to 20 hectares for a commercial farm, as opposed to a flat 1 hectare for everyone under federal rules.

Earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin signed a law introducing the free handover of land in the Far Eastern regions to Russians and foreigners who want to build homes or start businesses in agriculture or tourism. Russian authorities expect the land giveaway to attract more people to the Far East Federal District, to slow or stop the outward migration of locals and to boost the socio-economic development of the territory.

The bill provides for the free handover of 1 hectare (about 2.5 acres) of land to anyone who applies for the program. However, foreign citizens will only be allowed to utilize the land, not own it outright. Registration of full property rights is only possible after the naturalization of potential owners.

In mid-May this year, MP Sergey Obukhov of the Communist Party proposed to expand the program not only to the Russian Far East, but also to much larger territories in Siberia.

READ MORE: Proposed amendments to hand over agricultural land to families with many children

If the government bill on free land handover has been signed into law, we suggest that it should be expanded to the territory of Siberia already today. These two macro-regions must become pilot grounds and the collected experience could be later used on the whole territory of our country,” he told reporters. “One of the possible ways to restart the cultivation on unused lands is to give these lands top citizens who want to work in agriculture. I assure you, we will find enough of them.”

According to the official land register, Russia currently has about 198 million hectares of agricultural land, and at least 28 million of this is state-owned and unused.