By Elizabeth Loutfi
This article is a part of the University of Missouri's Ag Journalism program's coverage of the 2017 World Food Prize.
DES MOINES, Iowa — In the 20th century, the Russian government thought state ownership of all land and farms was the answer to ending poverty.
“It failed miserably,” said James Collins, former U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation. “The Soviet economy never successfully fed its people.”
Collins and two other former U.S. government officials, Christian J. Foster and Asif J. Chaudhry, discussed the Soviet agricultural sector at the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium.
In 1928, Joseph Stalin implemented new state policies that would turn all private- and public-owned land plots into collectivized farms. Stalin hoped this new model would speed up production. However, the state failed to take local growing conditions into account and the farms did not produce as much as was expected. Farmers often had to forgo their own produce and give it to the state instead. The resulting death toll is estimated to be as high as 5.3 million.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation began privatizing its agricultural sector in 1992. Collins said they focused on making three fundamental changes to farming. The first was to introduce farming to the market economy. The second change was to bring farming into the global arena by working with other countries to learn about new practices. Collins said there are Western farmers working with Russian farmers to improve yields. The third is the introduction of modern technologies into farming.
“Farmers who were totally cut off from all knowledge of what was happening suddenly found out there were different ways to approach their day-to-day issues,” Collins said.
Today, the face of Russian agriculture has shifted back into the hands of the farmers. Individuals can once again own land, and farm profitability is at 83 percent, Foster said.
Farms can also specialize in certain crops now, he added, which wasn’t the case on collectivized farms. The state wanted all farms to be self-sufficient, which meant they had to grow everything.
“Farm privatization gave farmers the freedom to do what they want with their land, which is unique to this generation.” Foster said.