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Virgin Lands Campaign

But the most ambitious was the Virgin Lands campaign, in which hundreds of thousands of young men and women volunteered to work and settle on the steppelands of Kazakhstan.

Khrushchev promoted the campaign as a 'Leninist' response to the crisis of collectivized agriculture. The collective farms were too inefficient to feed the Soviet population. Malenkov proposed to solve the problem by raising procurement prices, and by enlarging the peasants' private plots on which they grew vegetables or kept a few chickens to sell in the peasant markets found in every town. Khrushchev attacked this as retreat from collectivism and presented the Virgin Lands campaign as an ideologically pure alternative.

Propaganda trumpeted the achievements of the settlers on the Virgin Lands. But its results were mixed: 40 million hectares of new land were brought into production between 1954 and 1963, and grain output rose as a result, enough to end food shortages in the short term; but harvest yields were variable, and steadily declined from 1958, largely because there was not enough fertilizer to compensate for the poor soil. As the Kazakhs had warned, their lands were not just virgin but infertile.

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