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When Russia’s Farms Collapsed… It Was An Unexpected Environmental Boon
October 7, 2013
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An abandoned farm in Yarabaikasy, Russia (Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)

In 1991, the USSR was formally dissolved, and the system of collective farming that Stalin had introduced in Russia in the late '20s collapsed along with it. The chaos this produced in the country's food system had one unexpected upside — it created a massive new carbon sink (a reservoir that pulls carbon dioxide out of the air), according to a study the results of which were recently published in Global Change Biology.

Here's how it worked: when collective agriculture fell apart, more than 45 million hectares of farmland were abandoned, as workers moved to cities looking for work. The study's authors, from the Russian Academy of Sciences, say this mass migration was "the most widespread and abrupt land use change in the 20th century in the northern hemisphere." Over time, plants slowly started to take over the land, and as plants do, began to absorb carbon dioxide.

Quite a lot of carbon dioxide, in fact; about 42.6 million tonnes of the stuff each year since the early 1990s. That's about equivalent to 10 per cent of Russia's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. The researchers estimate that over the next 30 years, about 261 million more tonnes of CO2 will be absorbed by the new plant life, at which point the system will reach equilibrium.

"Everything like this makes a difference," Jonathan Sanderman, a soil chemist at CSIRO Land and Water in Australia, told New Scientist. "Ten per cent is quite a bit considering most nations are only committed to 5 per cent reduction targets. So by doing absolutely nothing — by having depressed their economy — they've achieved quite a bit."

Via New Scientist

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