After Stalin’s death, a period of reforms and changes began to take hold in the USSR. Among many changes and initiatives that took place, Khrushchev’s Virgin Lands Program was significant. The Virgin Lands Program was an “…ambitious scheme to convert huge tracts of pastureland in southern Siberia and Kazakhstan to arable land” (Freeze, p. 411). The program saw a return to an emphasis on agriculture, something that Stalin had severely neglected. Something interesting I found when researching the Virgin Lands Program, was that Nikita Khrushchev’s first wife died of starvation during the famine of 1921. Perhaps Khrushchev’s emphasis on agriculture had something to do with his wife’s early death.
The program sought to shift grain and wheat production to other lands so that Ukraine could be used to produce more corn to increase meat and milk production. In the first year that the program was enacted, approximately 19 million hectares or 47 million acres were plowed. 14 million additional hectares were plowed the following year. Starting in the 1960s, reliance on single-crop cultivation had damaged the fertility of the soil, and much of the soil simply blew away with the wind.
The Virgin Lands Program introduced a special demographic element to society. Many young males of differing ethnicities, including Chechens, Volga Germans, Kazakhs, and Ingush, were recruited to provide labor for the program. The concentration of these individuals in competition for “economic and cultural resources” (Seventeen Moments) led to ethnic friction and even pogroms. This was an interesting dynamic that characterized Khrushchev’s program.
“Russia: A History” Gregory L. Freeze