Virgin Lands Campaign

Virgin Lands Campaign

The Virgin Lands Campaign was an initiative by Nikita Khrushchev to open up vast tracts of unseeded (virgin) steppe in the northern Kazakh SSR and the Altay region of the Russian SFSR, started in 1954.

In the first year of the programme, 190,000 km² were ploughed; in 1955, an extra 140,000 km² were ploughed. With all this new land, a vast number of people had to be brought in from all over the Soviet Union: the Komsomol was charged with recruiting them.

More than 300,000 people, mostly Ukrainians and Russians, 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, Slavs outnumbered Kazakhs in many areas. The main town was renamed "Tselinograd", "Virgin Lands City" (today's Astana).

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. The scheme was therefore considered to be a huge success, as it not only enabled the USSR to feed its people but also to prove to the world that the Communist way of life was "better".


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. However, production of fertilizers in the USSR had increased during this period and so the loss of fertility was principally due to poor planning as the fertilizers were rarely available where they were needed. 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 storage silos, so it had to be thrown away. Furthermore, the Soviet infrastructure was unable to cope and so much of the grain produced did not reach the towns, which was where it was most needed.

Therefore despite the initial success of the Virgin Lands Campaign, the Soviet Union was forced to buy 20 million tonnes of grain from Canada to meet its needs and avoid famine. This constituted a huge humiliation both for the USSR and for Khrushchev, who had boasted that the Soviet Union would oustrip US agricultural production.


Even after the end of the campaign, about six million Russian and Ukrainian inhabitants remained in the Kazakh SSR. [BBC: [ Russians left behind in Central Asia] ] Their number begun to decrease after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, because of the emigration of the Slavs back to their respective countries.

A minor planet 2111 Tselina discovered in 1969 by Soviet astronomer Tamara Mikhailovna Smirnova is named to commemorate the 25th anniversary of virgin soil development in the USSR. [cite book | last = Schmadel | first = Lutz D. | coauthors = | title = Dictionary of Minor Planet Names | pages = p. 171 | edition = 5th | year = 2003 | publisher = Springer Verlag | location = New York | url = | id = ISBN 3540002383]

ee also

* Agriculture in the Soviet Union
* Sovkhoz
* Agriculture
* Twenty-five-thousander


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