Agriculture, the environment and rural development in southern Ukraine, today and before

Senast ändrad: 22 februari 2024

Brian Kuns.

My field of research is agrarian and environmental change in the Global North. The main focus of my research has been to explore how and why agrarian structures, i.e. landownership patterns and the distribution of different types of and sizes of farms, are changing now and in the past, and what the consequences are for sustainability and rural development broadly defined. I situate this research in debates from critical political economy, which is a school of thought examining the interplay between economic forces, political power and social relations, and mapping out, among other things, how social differentiation and inequalities arise. In studying agrarian structures and how they change, I want to uncover how people who live and work in agricultural and forested landscapes express agency with respect to and otherwise experience and reflect on the changes they are a part of. I am also interested in the role of corporations in agriculture and forestry. I do this research in two countries – Ukraine and Sweden.

In this lecture, I will present a specific argument focusing mostly on Ukraine, and then more generally situate the specific argument within the research approaches mentioned above.  

In terms of the specific argument, this lecture will present an agrarian history in an area in southern Ukraine from the 1800s to today, traversing several agricultural revolutions and upheavals in terms of land relations, farm organization, economics and technology. As such this lecture will touch on the Soviet collectivization of agriculture and its consequences (in the 1930s) and the dissolution of collective farms following recent, post-socialist land reforms and the consequences of this, with more emphasis being devoted to the latter period. Importantly, this lecture will connect historical events to debates about agrarian structure and political economy in general, and about land-ownership and optimal farm size and organization in particular. Furthermore, various factors shaping agrarian change in Ukraine in different historical periods will be highlighted. The lecture will also include a short description of how farming and the environment have been affected by the current war, which is the subject of my ongoing research.

I will demonstrate in this lecture how different kinds of farms, in terms of size and organization, are developing in Ukraine today and how land-ownership patterns shape this. I will also show how  different farms use natural resources, and what the consequences of farm organization, landownership patterns and resource use are for sustainable and inclusive rural development. The ways in which history is important for understanding agrarian relations today will also be demonstrated. In particular, the way in which Soviet legacies are important for contextualizing and understanding what many consider to be Ukraine’s current “neo-liberal” turn in agriculture will be highlighted. Furthermore the lecture will demonstrate the continued relevance of history from the pre-Soviet period.

These arguments are made with respect to a particular area, which is situated along the Dnipro river in southern Ukraine. This area enjoys some notoriety in Sweden, because it includes the village today that originally was settled by Swedes from Estonia in the 1780s, referred to in Swedish as Gammalsvenskby. In essence the historic Swedish settlement is used in this lecture as a prism for following key debates and events about agriculture, the environment and rural development in Ukraine.

I will conclude the lecture by sketching out my future research in Ukraine and Sweden.