Virgin and Barren Lands

Virgin and Barren Lands


in the USSR, land areas suitable for the cultivation of agricultural crops. The development of virgin and barren lands is one of the important factors in increasing the production of grain and other agricultural crops.

From 1954 to 1960 such lands were developed in Kazakhstan, the Volga region, the Urals, Western and Eastern Siberia, and the Far East. This period has gone down in history as one of heroic accomplishments for the Communist Party and Soviet people, embodying the Leninist ideas of the need to use vast land resources in the interests of developing the country’s productive forces. In March 1974, at a ceremony in Alma-Ata honoring the 20th anniversary of the development of the virgin and barren lands, L. I. Brezhnev noted that development of the virgin and barren lands in Kazakhstan, Altai and Krasnoiarsk krais, Novosibirsk and Omsk oblasts, the Volga region, the Urals, the Far East, and other regions of the country is one of the most brilliant pages in the history of the constructive labor of the Soviet people. Hundreds of sovkhozes and various industrial enterprises and modern research centers were founded on land that had always been desolate. Not only was a major new grain base established in the eastern part of the country, but the economy, culture, and whole makeup of enormous regions were radically changed.

Before the October Revolution of 1917, small areas in the eastern steppes had been cultivated by emigrants from the densely settled oblasts of Russia. The harsh climatic conditions and poverty of the peasant households permitted nothing more than primitive farming based on the long-fallow system. The land was plowed and planted in grain for several years, and then, when the yield dropped sharply, it was abandoned to long-fallow, frequently for 20, 25, or more years.

Table 2. The share of total USSR grain production and state grain purchases from developed virgin and barren lands (in percent)
 Grain productionState grain purchases
USSR ...............31.546.836.935.062.047.7
RSFSR ...............25.731.923.628.040.026.4
Kazakh SSR ...............5.814.913.

During the Soviet years the essential prerequisites for largescale development of virgin and barren lands gradually took shape. After the adoption of the decree On Further Increases in the Production of Grain in the Country and Development of the Virgin and Barren Lands by the February-March 1954 Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic workers, including more than 500,000 persons on Komsomol assignments, were sent to the eastern regions. New sovkhozes with high-powered equipment were built rapidly. Between 1954 and 1960,41.8 million hectares (ha) of virgin and barren lands were brought under cultivation. This figure includes 16.3 million ha in the RSFSR (Western Siberia, 6.2 million; Ural regions, 4.2 million; Eastern Siberia and the Far East, 4.2 million; the Volga region, 1.7 million) and 25.5 million ha in Kazakhstan (primarily in the northern oblasts—Kustanai, Severnyi Kazakhstan, Kokchetav, Pavlodar, and Tselinograd). As a result of the expansion and intensive use of arable land in these regions, the area under grain cultivation increased, as did gross harvests and state grain purchases (see Tables 1 and 2).

The development of the virgin and barren lands required a significant capital investment of 37.4 billion rubles between 1954 and 1959. By 1961, however, the state had not only compensated through additional output for the capital expended but had earned more than 3.3 billion rubles of net income. Farms on these lands became major suppliers of inexpensive market grain; the percentage of grain going to market in Kazakhstan averaged 59 percent between 1971 and 1974. Many regions, including Altai Krai, the Bashkir ASSR, Saratov Oblast, and Kazakhstan, also developed production of sugar beets, sunflowers, and other agricultural crops. Favorable conditions were established for animal husbandry as well.

After the March 1965 Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, which outlined steps to intensify agriculture, the chief factor for the further growth of grain production in the virgin land regions was an increase in the yield of grain crops. Between 1961 and 1965 the yield had almost doubled. Crop rotation, seed production, and other steps to improve the stability of grain production are very important. As a result of more sophisticated methods of land cultivation, gross grain harvests between 1954 and 1974 in the virgin land regions increased 2.5 times in the RSFSR and 6.2 times in Kazakhstan. More than 500 million tons of grain has been obtained from the newly developed land.

The development and use of virgin and barren lands have been organized on a scientific basis. Therefore, the negative consequences that occur when the natural biological-geographic community is disturbed have been kept to a minimum.


Brezhnev, L. I. “Voprosy agrarnoi politiki KPSS i osvoenie tselinnykh zemel’ Kazakhstana.” Rechi i doklady, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1974.
Baraev, A. I. Osvoenie tselinnykh i zalezhnykh zemel’ v Kazakhstane. Moscow, 1955.
Dvoskin, B. la., and I. F. Sidorov. Tselinnyi krai. Moscow, 1964.
Problemy sel’skogo khoziaistva Severnogo Kazakhstana i stepnykh raionov Zapadnoi Sibiri (collection of articles). Moscow, 1967.
Georgiev, A. V. Khleb Altaia. Moscow, 1973.