Did the Soviet Union Collapse Because it Ran Out of Farmers?

Sharon July 31st, 2007

My friend and co-author Aaron Newton has a wonderful post over at his site here:

food sovereingty and the collapse of nations

This is definitely worth a read, and I think his response to other readers in the comments section is also excellent.

Now it is too soon for me to make really strong assertions about why the Soviet Union did collapse - I do read Russian, but so slowly that I might as well just wait for the translation. But there’s no question that this book raises a really important about the security and stability of nations, and I think Aaron’s take is a good and wise one.

We give lip service to food security in our nation, but we don’t really know what the term means. It is worth noting that almost 1/4 of all American households experience food insecurity - that is, they aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from. That number is indubitably rising as food prices rise. And America as a nation doesn’t really know where its next meal is coming from - literally in some cases, as we discover toxic food imports are rising - and metaphorically, because almost a third of think potatoes grow on trees.

If the book turns out to say what is implied in the article, it may turn out that national security at food security are more deeply intertwined than any of us had expected.

And yes, I know it would be better if I could get the links to work. Despite all the good advice, I’m apparently incapable. Working on it.


12 Responses to “Did the Soviet Union Collapse Because it Ran Out of Farmers?”

  1. Anonymouson 31 Jul 2007 at 11:58 pm

    when you are on the create/edit posts page, first in your paragraph type in a word, like for this post “Aaron’s post”. After whatever words you want to use to refer to the post are typed in, then highlight them (click and drag then release click). Then look at the top of the editor where it says “font” and has symbols. The little with the world (?) and a plus sign (?) that when you hover over it says “link” — click that. Then put the address of the post or site or whatever in there.

    I always have another browser window open and what I want to link to open and I copy and paste the address because typing it in I’m SURE to make a mistake. Make sure you don’t end up with two “http://” at the beginning.

    Anyway, I’m sure that had something to do with the Soviet collapse. I’m interested in how Cuba avoided this. And concerned with how China, with such an incredible surplus of men and impending environmental disaster, will cope. I’m guessing war.

  2. Anonymouson 01 Aug 2007 at 12:59 am

    For short URLs: you could always go to tinyurl.com, and they make an nifty little one out of the long one.

    A big long one about a CNN story I was surprised to see comes out like this:


    Growing front-yard food can rile neighbors

  3. shadowfooton 01 Aug 2007 at 3:01 am

    We have only a little food growing in the front yard, but I’m betting we could probably grow more in a front yard (if we had more space), without disturbing the neighbors. As it is, everyone can see the tomatoes in our side yard, halfway down the driveway….

    We have some berry bushes in the front yard, behind a light ‘fence’ of decorative Russian Sage. Also behind the R.Sage, surrounding the berry bushes, are bunches of chives. We also have a common sage bush in front.

    But the reason I put the bushes behind the R.Sage wasn’t because I was concerned about what the neighbors would think, but because I didn’t want to feed the entire neighborhood. A hedge or decorative fence along the front edge of the yard, maybe with a narrow border of flowers along the fence, would look lovely, and no doubt help defuse any issues with a front yard garden.

    Also, depending on what types of flowers one planted, they could help attract bees, which is good for pollinating any number of types of veggies. Russian Sage, Daisies, Echinacea Purpurea, are just a few.

  4. Kiashuon 01 Aug 2007 at 3:54 am

    As I understand it, the book says that first the oil peaked, and after that and as a result the grain production peaked. A large part of food production was actually in private plots, the collectivised agriculture - like our corporatised agriculture - could only work with massive inputs of oil.

    This left the Soviet leaders with a dilemma, to either loosen up the domestic economy and let people grow their own stuff, or loosen up their external economy and allow more imports (of both oil and food).

    The first option would mean loosening politically, while the second would mean money flowing out of the country. They chose the second option, but because they didn’t have enough money and the West wouldn’t lend them enough, meant that they faced a triple crisis: energy, food and money. Under the weight of this crisis, the outside republics started pulling away, and in an effort to keep them they tried a chaotic mixture of domestic loosening of control, and crackdowns. Because it was a mixed effort it didn’t work. Then a group popped up to try to make it entirely a crackdown - there was a coup against Gorbachev. The regime then lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the people, and it fell apart.

    Countries collapse not because of any single stress, but from a combination of stresses. They can survive famine, economic collapse, lack of social mobility, losing a foreign war, energy crisis, and so on - but not all of those at once.

  5. Anonymouson 01 Aug 2007 at 7:23 am

    Hi Sharon,
    I just left this link at Aaron’s post. Thanks for pointing out his article.

    Hello Aaron,

    Great subject for post… much for us to think about.

    Here are two additional links:

    A speech of Yegor Gaidar which develops his arguments about the collapse of the Soviet Union has been posted at the American Enterprise Intstitute:
    The Soviet Collapse” Grain and Oil

    You mention Dmitri Orlov in your suggested readings. Dmitry has an excellent study online: Closing the ‘Collapse Gap’: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US

    Best wishes,
    Bart Anderson
    Energy Bulletin

  6. M.Squirrelon 01 Aug 2007 at 11:09 am

    My neighbor’s would be p-o-ed, too, if my front looked like my back. Therefore, we get a bit creative with the front. I believe the master gardeners are calling it “ornamental edibles”. So far we have a grape vine beginning to trail up one side of the house, two berry bushes in the planting berm around one of our trees, two more under our front window (along with some peppers). We’ve also got carrots and cucumbers planted in pots along our front steps. I’ve sketched up plans to add some dwarf fruit trees as well, and add an herb, garlic, and onion bed to one side.

    My son would be perfectly happy, though, if the front looked like the back. It takes 15 minutes these days to mow the back yard (due to all of the raised garden beds), but well over an hour to mow the front. He’d probably be even happier if we just got a couple of goats to do the job for us.

  7. Weaseldogon 01 Aug 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Before the US market downturn in May 2001, I noticed the same thing about Russia. Their oil production peaked, then their economy went South.

    I figured the same thing was about to happen in the US, with world oil production about to make a downturn. By Jan 2001, I had sold almost all of my market positions. The downturn came a full business quarter after the peak, just as predicted.

    Dmitri Orlov has been contributer to Energy Resources group on Yahoo. We had a lively discussion some time back about Russian oil production and Perestroika. I see he’s tied more elements together since then. Back then he was mainly focusing on Russian food production. I didn’t realize until then, exactly how these problems magnify one another.

    In 2002-2003 World oil production languished and the EIA and USGS didn’t publish numbers in a timely manner. In 2004, it started coming back up and we finally saw the damage. The uptick was almost entirely due to Saudi Arabia and the Russians. Now Saudi Arabia is struggling to stand still. When Ghawar goes into steep decline, the world’s economic health is going to start ratcheting downwards..

    As we’re on the cusp of decline, we’re at the place that Russia was at, in the months before Perestroika. And we’re not managing any of this at all. Instead our government is concentrating on making the super rich, even richer, while selling off our economy and infrastructure. We’re becoming increasingly dependant on other nations for food, just as Russia did.

    It is coming.

    The Russian people pulled through by planting victory gardens. but on the way, a lot of Russians died.

    Russia though, had a leg up on us. They hadn’t completely abandoned the idea of growing their own food. They started with a whole generation that still knew how to farm. We are a generation removed that sort of head start.

  8. Weaseldogon 01 Aug 2007 at 3:46 pm

    “I’m interested in how Cuba avoided this.”

    Cuba never quite left its agricultural roots. Its people never became completely dependant on technology and imports.

  9. Weaseldogon 01 Aug 2007 at 6:31 pm

    You did it!


    You made links work!

  10. shadowfooton 01 Aug 2007 at 6:42 pm

    On growing things: My dad had grown up in the country, but we lived in a small city most of my childhood (plus 3 years in Hong Kong). My mom was from San Francisco originally, but thought it would be good for us to do some veg gardening. I got back into it, off and on, in my 20s. A few years I only grew lettuce and tomatoes, plus my herbs. My husband’s family’s farm has a number of products (hay, eggs, maple syrup, a little lumber, and some services), plus a truck garden of course.

    Probably the majority of Americans have a disconnect from serious veggie gardening these days, but not everyone, and you can always start with a few plants and work your way up (assuming you have access to land or at least a window that gets decent sunlight).

    For those who want to learn more, check in with your state’s Cooperative Extension. They have all sorts of useful info.

    If you live in the New England area, there is all the New England Small Farms Institute, which has resources, training, and networking for people who want to get into farming more seriously. They even have an internship program, where farms advertise for help and people who want to learn about that type of farming can apply to work there. NESFI

  11. RASon 01 Aug 2007 at 9:42 pm

    I haven’t gotten any complaints from the neighbors about the sprawling tomato plants in my front yard. Not that I would care anyway; some of my grass-happy neighbors I would be delighted to annoy. But here’s the funny thing: since I planted the extra tomatoes in the front this year, I’ve noticed that about half a dozen other houses in the neighborhood have planted tomatoes in theirs -and I KNOW this hasn’t happened before.

    I think I started a trend!

  12. Anonymouson 03 Aug 2007 at 10:24 pm

    “Please and thank you
    they are the magic words”

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