The Virgin Lands Campaign was an initiative by Nikita Khrushchev to open up vast tracts of unused (virgin) steppe in the northern Kazakh SSR and the Altai region of the Russian SFSR, started in 1954.
In the first year of the programme, 190,000 km² were ploughed up, and in 1955, an extra 14 million were ploughed. With all this new land, a vast amount of people would need to be brought in from all over the Soviet Union: the Komsomol was charged with recruiting them.
More than 300,000 people, mostly Ukrainian, arrived in the Virgin Lands to begin new lives as farmers. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, students and combine harvester operators would join them; however, these people would stay for only a year's harvest. By the end of the mass immigrations to the Virgin Lands, Ukrainians outnumbered Kazakhs in many areas.
For a brief time, Khrushchev inspired a communist zeal in the peoples of the Soviet Union, and concentrated that zeal on a task that, for an equally brief time, produced the expected results.
The first harvest
The first harvest on the Virgin Lands, in 1956, was a stunning success. Of the 125 million tonnes of grain produced in the Soviet Union that year, more than half of it came from one eighth of the country. The Soviet Union was producing, per capita, twice as much wheat as the West. However, harvests would never again reach the level of 1956, for a number of reasons, most of them because of Khrushchev's lack of foresight.
Nearly all of the collective farms in the Virgin Lands grew one crop alone: wheat. By the 1960s, the soil had been drained of all its nutrients beneficial to wheat, and before long, due to lack of any measures to prevent erosion, much of that soil was simply being blown away by the wind to leave bare, useless steppe behind.
Also, much of the crop that could be harvested was wasted, as there were not enough silos, and much had to be just thrown away.
Following the failure of the Virgin Lands Campaign, the Soviet Union was forced to buy grain from Canada to meet its needs.
Last updated: 05-07-2005 08:32:31
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04