Soviet Union Table of Contents
After the death of Stalin, an integrated food policy gradually evolved. Nikita S. Khrushchev was the first Soviet leader to demonstrate serious concern for the diet of the citizenry. In fact, it was his obsession with increasing the consumption of meat and dairy products that drove Khrushchev's controversial agricultural program. He switched the country's prime wheat-growing lands to the production of corn, which was supposed to feed an ever-increasing number of livestock. Khrushchev believed that the lost wheat production could be offset by extensive farming in the semiarid virgin land of the Kazakh Republic and southwestern Siberia. However, his program, underfinanced from the start, did not produce the desired results, a major factor in his fall from power in 1964.
Like his predecessor, Leonid I. Brezhnev considered agriculture a top priority. Unlike Khrushchev, however, he backed his program with massive investments. During his tenure, the supply of livestock housing increased 300 percent, and similar increases in the delivery of chemical fertilizers and tractors were recorded. Brezhnev's Food Program, announced in 1982, was intended to guide agriculture throughout the 1980s. It provided for even larger investment in the agro-industrial complex (agro-promyshlennyi kompleks--APK), particularly in its infrastructure (see The Complexes and the Ministries , ch. 12). The program also set up regional agro-industrial associations (regional'nye agropromyshlennye ob''edineniia--RAPOs) to administer all elements of the food industry on the raion (see Glossary), oblast (see Glossary), krai (see Glossary), and autonomous republic (see Glossary) levels. The program's overriding objective was improving the availability of food for the consumer. Production goals now referred to per capita consumption of meat, fruit, vegetables, and other basic foods. Unlike previous campaigns, the Food Program gave the same prominence to reducing waste as to increasing output.
In 1988 Gorbachev, who had been the Central Committee secretary for agriculture when the Food Program was announced, appeared to be pursuing a two-pronged approach to agricultural administration. On the one hand, he attempted to improve the APK's efficiency through further centralization, having merged five ministries and a state committee in late 1985 into the State Agro-Industrial Committee (Gosudarstvennyi agro-promyshlennyi komitet--Gosagroprom). Eliminated were the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Fruit and Vegetable Industry, the Ministry of the Meat and Dairy Industry, the Ministry of the Food Industry, the Ministry of Agricultural Construction, and the State Committee for the Supply of Production Equipment for Agriculture. But, on the other hand, he called for delegation of greater decision-making authority to the farms and farmers themselves.
Gosagroprom proved to be a major disappointment to Gorbachev, and at the March 1989 Agricultural Plenum of the Central Committee, the superministerial body was eliminated. Moreover, Gorbachev complained that the RAPOs meddled excessively in the operations of individual farms, and he urged abolishing them as well. The general thrust of the reforms proposed at the plenum was to dismantle the rigid central bureaucracy, transfer authority to local governing councils, and increase the participation of farmers in decision making. Gorbachev also elected to give the individual republics greater freedom in setting food production goals that were consistent with the needs of their people.
A key objective of Gorbachev's perestroika (see Glossary) was to increase labor productivity by means of the proliferation of contract brigades throughout the economy. Agricultural contract brigades consisted of ten to thirty farm workers who managed a piece of land leased by the kolkhoz or sovkhoz under the terms of a contract making the brigades responsible for the entire production cycle. Because brigade members received a predetermined price for the contracted amount of output plus generous bonuses for any excess production, their income was tied to the result of their labors. After 1987 family contract brigades also became legal, and long-term leasing (up to fifteen years) was enacted--two reforms that in the opinion of some Western analysts pointed toward an eventual sanctioning of the family farm. Because contract brigades enjoyed relative autonomy, much of the administrative bureaucracy resisted them. Nevertheless, in 1984 an estimated 296,100 farm workers had already banded together in contract brigades, and the document Basic Directions for the Economic and Social Development of the USSR for 1986-1990 and for the Period to the Year 2000 (a report presented to and subsequently adopted by the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress) called for their wider use (see Reforming the Planning System , ch. 11). The March 1989 Agricultural Plenum endorsed contract brigades and agricultural leasing, a major victory for Gorbachev's reform effort.
Soon after assuming power in 1985, Gorbachev demonstrated his intention of reforming another enduring feature of Soviet food policy--the maintenance of artificially low retail prices for staples in the state stores. In 1986 he raised prices for certain categories of bread, the first such increase in over thirty years. But much remained to be done in this critical area. For example, milk and meat prices had not been adjusted since 1962. The bill for food subsidies in 1985 came to nearly 55 billion rubles (for value of the ruble--see Glossary); of this, 35 billion rubles was for meat and milk products alone. By June 1986, the absurdity of the food subsidy policy had become a matter of open discussion in upper echelons of the party, and higher prices were expected to take effect by the end of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (1986-90).
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents