Agriculture's Big Picture
AgWeb Editor Greg Vincent takes a big-picture look at agriculture and current events.
The Legacy of Lenin
Jul 30, 2008
It’s going to take at least a generation to leave Vladimir Lenin’s legacy behind in Ukraine. Maybe more.
Seeing the effects of communism also drives home the importance of the lessons each of us leaves for our family and our community. Leaving things a little better than we found them is the intent of the Farm Journal Legacy Project, and seeing how a negative legacy can impact an entire country drives home the importance making a positive mark on even individual families.
The 14 U.S. farmers, financial analysts, journalists and one attorney on the Top Producer Frontier Study Tour heard a recurring theme from nearly every farm manager we called on…“people are not motivated to work.” Either that or we heard the workers were commonly too drunk and hungover on vodka to work.
Statues of Lenin like this one in Uman are still prevalent throughout Ukraine
Throughout the week we saw statues of Lenin, the first leader of the former Soviet Union, across the country. In most cities the town squares still featured bronze idols to the person who brought Marxist ideals to Eastern Europe. The dining room in our hotel in Uman still featured a bust of the communist leader, all serving as constant reminders of a negative legacy.
My intent is not to be overly critical of Ukraine or its people. Rather, it is proof that we all leave a legacy and legacies become entrenched in a business or a society and they are often not easily changed.
So is it about the workers and lack of work ethic, or is it a symptom of poor leadership? Like most things, it's probably somewhere in the middle, but I think the inherent problem probably lies mostly at the feet of leadership and providing the incentive for people to do well.
The new generation. While were there we saw many examples of people working to get ahead, and countless signs of progress and indications that people in this agricultural behemoth of a country are eager to move beyond communism. But the past 17 years of independence in Ukraine have not been easy. The struggle to shake communist ideals is more difficult than ever.
The question for me becomes, where does it start and how does it end. Our translator was a 25 year-old woman who is extremely motivated and eager to succeed personally and has a strong desire to see Ukraine progress and move beyond the bonds of communism.
There is optimism with young people like Misha, 24, a veterinarian at Valerie Petrovitch’s dairy farm. Misha feels the Ukraine government is corrupt and needs an overhaul. Though he is not optimistic that it will happen soon, he is positive when his generation emerges to lead the country, things will change. I hope he’s right and that his optimism is not limited to youthful exuberance.
As we moved south through the country, we began to see large numbers of people work in vegetable fields bagging onions and other vegetables as they went. Backbreaking work that few Americans would want to do today. Turns out these people owned the fields and they were doing the work for themselves. Financial incentive was their motivation and they knew for what and for who they were working.
They're losing more than 30% of their efficiency," says Glenn Leighty as three of nine combines sat idle for more than an hour in this field in central Ukraine.
Signs of progress. In many ways the country has made great strides through the efforts of people like Petorovitch, a former builder on the collective farm he now owns northeast of Kiev.
Some of the situations are easily fixable with simple management. I wrote the other day about the U.S. farmer’s discomfort who saw three of the nine combines filled with barley sitting idle for more than an hour, all while grain trucks and workers sat still on the other side of the field. “They’re losing more than 30% of the efficiency,” Illinois farmer and FSA loan office Glenn Leighty said.
Combines, grain trucks and workers sitting idle are all indications of the problem, but they are easily treatable symptoms. The question remains if Lenin’s legacy is a disease with an infection that has festered too long to allow capitalism to completely break free and bring about a new legacy.
This farm in southern Ukraine is making the most with old equipment and new technology. The farm quality tests each load of grain before it is transported. A grain quality testing lab (not shown) is housed on the farm.