Growing Food by Decree in Soviet Russia

Courtesy Reuters

IN a significant address on August 8, 1953, Soviet Premier Georgi M. Malenkov gave the planners of the Soviet economy the task of achieving within two or three years an abundance of food for the population and of raw material for industry. The gap between present production and "agricultural abundance" in the Soviet Union is so tremendous that literal attainment of this goal within such a short period seems extremely unlikely. Nevertheless Soviet agricultural output could be increased substantially, given favorable economic conditions, improved farm management and increased supplies to agriculture of such materials as machinery, fertilizer, technical help, building materials, and insecticides and pesticides. In an attempt to achieve the grand goal announced by Malenkov the party and the government have promulgated two great series of sweeping but contrasted decrees.[i]

The first set of decrees began to be issued in September 1953. Their aim was to increase production of meat, vegetables, fruits and industrial crops on existing farmland, partly by raising the prices paid.

The second set, embodied particularly in the decree of March 2, 1954, attempted to expand radically the area under cultivation, in order to achieve a cheap and quick increase in grain production. Within the two years 1954 and 1955, 32,000,000 acres of idle and virgin land were to be plowed up and put into crops. This ambitious plan was revised upward on August 17, 1954, to the fantastic figure of 70,000,000 additional acres to be cultivated within three years, 1954-1956. Thus within the brief compass of three years the Soviet Union aspires to add new cultivated land equal to the total harvested acreage of wheat in the United States. This would amount to a 20 percent expansion in the total Soviet sown area. Naturally one wonders whether the Soviet Union contains that much good land not currently cropped but utilizable so suddenly.

Before considering in turn the two sets of decrees, we need to review briefly past Soviet efforts to increase agricultural production and to consider the physical conditions affecting Soviet farming and its limits.


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