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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Life Down on the Farm

YAROSLAVL, Russia - Lenin vowed to bring electricity to all of Russia, but for Lena Loginova, the only light to cut the night comes from a kerosene lamp.

But then, Lenin's communist designs hardly allowed for private farmers such as Loginova. Having been given free-of-charge a 60-hectare plot of land without a road, water, gas or electricity, Loginova, a former physician, now runs a profitable potato and wheat farm with three tractors, two combines, two mobile homes and one full-time mechanic.

"I love it", she said. "I am my own director. I have no boss - except for my husband, naturally.

Loginova is a beneficiary of a 2-year-old private farming program from the Agriculture Ministry which combines education with the free distribution of land in a gradual approach to breaking the monopoly of inefficient state and collective farms.

Some 400 students from a wide range of nonagricultural disciplines graduated this week in Yaroslavl from the program's coursework, which teaches aspiring farmers how to select and sell a crop, keep books and pay taxes. "We have doctors, accountants, military people, teachers, and some people who were in farming before", said Valentina Zadumina, director of the school, which has the unwieldy title of the Yaroslavl Institute for the Preparation of and Raising of Qualifications of Agricultural Workers, located 300 kilometers north of Moscow. "People everywhere are interested in farming".

For former city folk such as Loginova, a diploma from the year-long course is essential to compete in regional contests for free land. In the absence of experience in farming, a review board which oversees the distribution of land in the Yaroslavl region will consider an applicant who has a diploma from the course.

But Loginova is still a rarity in a country of collectivized agriculture. Just 1, 500 private farms exist on paper in the Yaroslavl region, according to Zadumina. Considerably fewer are successful.

Russia was an agricultural exporter before Stalin's farm collectivization program of the 1930s, which created a famine that killed millions.

The Soviet Union, and now Russia, has never recovered and the country still must import food. As a result of urbanization which followed collectivization, only 3 percent of the Yaroslavl population lives in the countryside.

In an attempt to reverse this trend, the Baltic republic of Lithuania simply broke up the state collective farms following independence. But Russia has adapted a slower approach to introducing private farming.

Under the program of the Agriculture Ministry, state and collective farms are required to set aside small portions of their land for free distribution. Because the number of applicants for this land exceed the number of plots, competition can be fierce, so a diploma from the institute is considered to provide an edge.

When Loginova won her farm 18 months ago, she competed with 40 applicants for 15 farms, ranging in size from 50 to 70 hectares each.

In the classroom, students are taught about soil, genetics, accounting, irrigation and study a foreign language.

But course planners say that the underlying philosophy of the program goes beyond how to plow a straight furrow.

"The main aim of the program is to teach people to be businessmen in agriculture". said Vladimir Gubernatorov, an Agriculture Ministry official who manages the course in 306 schools nationwide. "Abroad, farming is a business. But here, a farmer is not even considered a businessman".

Gubernatorov said that Russia planned to spend 91 billion rubles ($91. 5 million) this year for education of farmers, agricultural scientists and other disciplines related to agriculture.