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03 May 2023, 14:50

Focus on good land management in Belarus explained

Aleksandr Lukashenko during the nationwide subbotnik in the Khatyn Memorial Complex
Aleksandr Lukashenko during the nationwide subbotnik in the Khatyn Memorial Complex

The demand for suburban real estate has increased markedly around the world due to COVID-19, says the survey conducted by one of the international consulting companies. The survey also showed that one in four people in the world would like to swap their apartment for a house. What about us? Belarusians are like from another planet: they still need to be persuaded to acquire a piece of land and take care of it. In the new episode of the project "After the Fact: Lukashenko's Decisions" we will tell you how to become rich by spending one base amount (Br37)? Why does the president disapprove of a careless attitude towards land? Does agritourism hold any future?

“I revisit this topic again and again. Why are we like this? People from other places have already started pouring here: from Russia (we appreciate them, the Russians), and from the West, from Ukraine (you know this). People come to live on these vacant plots. I'm encouraging you to acquire a land plot, make a garden there. This will help you clear your head, and protect you against Covid. It is good to have a piece of land today. If it is up to half a hectare, then you can build a homestead. You can start with a shed. When you save up you can build a house. This is something you can leave over to your children,” the head of state said as he delivered the Address to the Belarusian people and the Parliament last year.

What is rural tourism and is it popular with Belarusians?

In Belarus, almost 80% of the population is city dwellers. But seeing empty parking lots on the long May weekend, you get the feeling that most have a house in the countryside. In Covid times, Belarusians did not flee out of town en masse, although, the risk of catching a virus is minimal in the fresh air. Belarusians love the summer dacha season. It's not just about pensioners, who in spring forget about all their health issues and disappear into their dachas until late autumn. A tomato from your own garden is always the most delicious, both for children and for parents. Tourists are happy to eat greens from our gardens. Cucumber with honey is generally an exotic thing for them. Interest in the so-called rural tourism is growing every year.

According to Irina Voronovich, Director of the Tourism Department at the Sport and Tourism Ministry, the percentage of visits by foreign tourists was very high in 2019. "“Bus tours were especially popular. There are farmsteads that host workshops and concerts. This type of tourism was in demand. We saw the interest. But then came the pandemic. Tourism flows have changed slightly. Today we are seeing an increase in domestic tourism. Our citizens account for a greater percentage of travelers today, which is also good. Because rural tourism is an alternative to traveling abroad. People are rediscovering this type of vacation”. "

She also said that rural tourism suggests farming or growing food." “Every farmstead is different, for example, by culinary recipes that are characteristic of a particular region. Many operators open, for example, a petting zoo on the grounds of their farmsteads. Today, children and young people from the cities often have no idea what animals look like. This service is popular. You go out of town together with your family and you show your kids the things they have seen only in books. It's good. You combine the useful with the pleasant,'”" Irina Voronovich noted.

Irina Voronovich
Irina Voronovich

How to start a rural tourism business in Belarus

Almost 500,000 tourists spent vacations in countryside farmsteads last year. These are rough numbers because many travelers make spontaneous decisions to travel out of town and they do it by car. Demand begets supply. In 2006 there were a little more than 40 farmsteads in Belarus. This year there are already more than 3,000 of them. A presidential decree on the development of this type of tourism came into force in January. To provide farmstead services, you need to get permission from the local authorities. The document is designed to exclude the possibility of conducting a hotel or restaurant business under the guise of a farmstead. But this does not mean that it will become more difficult to engage in this type of business. On the contrary. Preferential terms remain in place.

“This kind of activity is quite simple because there are preferential terms. Firstly, this is not an entrepreneurial activity, which makes registration easier.

What is important is desire and land that will be used for its intended purpose. You also need a house. The document has a reservation: no more than 10 rooms with land to be used for its intended purpose,” Irina Voronovich said.

Because rural tourism is also about farming or growing food. “Every farmstead is different, for example, by culinary recipes that are characteristic of a particular region. Many operators open, for example, a petting zoo on the grounds of their farmsteads. Today, children, young people from the cities often have no idea what animals look like. This service is popular. You go out of town together with your family and you show your kids the things they have seen only in books. It's good. You combine the useful with the pleasant,” she noted.

Having a farmstead for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes is no longer a luxury. In Belarus, a country of endless fields, every family can acquire a plot. The president regularly draws attention to the issue of vacant plots and abandoned farmsteads. Wealth is literally lying under your feet; we just need to see it.

"“In the future, agriculture will be concentrated in agro-towns. A large farm will incorporate a maximum of two large villages. The problem of the so-called unpromising villages will cease to exist. But today any village has abandoned household plots. These are fertile lands, which sooner or later overgrow with shrubs when unattended. Let's save them, work on them. Cultivate and plant gardens. It is important for us to make sure people do not leave these villages. We need to motivate those who were born there to come back, to encourage businessmen to build a house there, acquire a plot of land. This is the center of Europe, the crossing of all roads. People should be interested to have a plot of land and cultivate it. Owning half a hectare of land in the center of Europe is a man's wealth,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said during his April trip to Gomel Oblast .

Why Lukashenko's attitude to native land is so special

2018-2020 were declared the Years of Native Land in Belarus. Officially, the program consisted of more than 120 events. They were marked by efforts to tidy up places of mass recreation, forests and burial places, and much more. Belarusians gladly joined the nationwide campaign. The topic turned out to be important for everyone, because wherever you are, you always feel love and affection for your home place. The ideological inspirer and initiator of the three-year campaign was Aleksandr Lukashenko. The president has a special affection for his hometown.

“Either returning from a long business trip or coming here, I always look at this land with great love. You are special people to me, you know that. This all began with you, your parents. First of all, for me. Once you put your trust in me, a very young man, and sent me off on a long journey. I want to tell young people (I didn't realize it at the time) that you become very homesick with time. Sooner or later, we all come home. I am always excited to visit this place. As you noticed, I rarely stayed in Shklov. Maybe it was because of these strong feelings that were affecting me. But there comes a time when you are especially drawn home, your hometown. They say if you have recurring dreams of some place, you have to go there. This is why I have come to you, my dear good people,” the head of state spoke about his feelings to the native land during his visit to Shklov on Easter.

Aleksandr Lukashenko visits the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Shklov on Easter
Aleksandr Lukashenko visits the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Shklov on Easter

How the head of state responds to careless attitude towards land

The president strongly disapproves of careless attitude toward the land. No matter what region it is, whether it is a manufacturing facility or a field. That is why the head of state often likes to take a detour on the planned itinerary. Journalists know that if the president sees cases of mismanagement, officials may lose their jobs.

“It is necessary to plant every bit of vacant land with forests. Let alone the places which have been deforested. Forests must be immediately restored over there. Forests should be planted on the site of former farms, around agro-towns, large villages, which will stay in place in the future. And in places where water towers and vehicle depots used to be. [Former] dairy farms and animal husbandry farms. We have so many vacant lands like that! Thousands and thousands [of hectares]! Why don't we plant trees where it is possible?! And if we do it, why do we do this half-heartedly?” Aleksandr Lukashenko criticized the careless attitude towards land as he heard out the reports on the country's forest sector in March 2022.

A year earlier, at the April meeting to discuss the state of affairs in the country's agricultural sector, the president was also unhappy with the cases of mismanagement at certain farms: “We built livestock complexes. This gave us the opportunity to leave almost all the production facilities, which were outdated and technologically unable to secure manufacturing. We abandoned the old farms and today they have trees growing on their roofs.” Aleksandr Lukashenko is confident: these facilities should not become ‘monuments of mismanagement', and any vacant land should be used for agricultural purposes. “Get things in order!” the Belarusian leader demanded.

Where to get information about vacant houses on sale

Abandoned and rundown houses are becoming fewer in the country. This comes largely thanks to the presidential decree that makes it possible to buy a house in the countryside for just one base amount (Br37). It is a great option for those who have no parents' home to inherit. This year, Belarus has launched the Unified Register of Vacant Property. This is a specialized resource that collects information about abandoned buildings that could be purchased under Decree No.116. There was no integrated database before. Today all the data is available free online.

Viktoria Verina, Deputy Head of the Main Department of Land Regulation, Land Management and Land Cadastre of the State Property Committee of the Republic of Belarus told the media about the operation of the Unified Register of Vacant Property which is available free online. “This register provides real-time information on such houses, and helps find their owners. If, for example, the owners do not use the house and have left the locality, for example, have moved abroad, they can learn that their house may be recognized as vacant and can write to us to notify whether they intend to use it,” Viktoria Verina said.

The second purpose of the register is that people can look at houses for sale online. “If someone gets interested in buying such a house, they can contact the rural or regional administration and ask for details. They can learn how the house is sold: whether via a direct sale or an auction. And they can apply for participation. Since the beginning of the year more than 110 houses have been sold. There is information on 150 more houses. The register features a total of 8,500 such houses,” Viktoria Verina said.

The register provides detailed information about the state of a house. For example, you can learn about the material of the walls, the area of the house, the depreciation rate, the date of the construction and many more. But if you bought it, you would be expected to take good care of it and its grounds. The site should be used effectively. Although this applies to any land plot. A little reminder for all the land plot owners: you can get fined for trash and uncut grass. After all, we like it when foreigners drive through our communities and praise our tidiness and cleanness.

Why Belarus still holds nationwide subbotniks

“You see how our land is getting prettier, our cities and towns are getting greener and cozier. Everything is made by your hands. First of all you do this for yourselves, your children and grandchildren. Together we create our Belarus for life. No wonder that many tourists note not only the beauty and cleanness of Belarus but even find something that is dear to their hearts. Something that reminds them of their native places,” the head of state said at the Ivan Kupala Festival in Alexandria in 2019.

An estimated 2.385 million Belarusians joined the nationwide subbotnik [voluntary labor day] in 2023. Skeptics may call it a thing of the past, but this is a tradition the Belarusians will never give up. Belarusians gather together, make the country more beautiful and even raise money for good causes. More than Br14 million was raised as part of the recent marathon of cleanliness. The funds will be used to reconstruct the memorial complex to honor the prisoners of the Ozarichi death camp and also to set up the national center for patriotic education of young people in the Brest Fortress. No matter how pompous it may sound, but labor ennobles. We do all this not for our homeland, but primarily for ourselves and our children.

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