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Agriculture in Pre-Revolution Ukraine

Russian Ukraine comprised only a twenty-ninth part of the gigantic Russian Empire and barely one-fourth of its population, but Ukraine was the granary of Russia. The climate of the Ukraine favors the cultivation of grains as no other does. Barely one small part of the steppe-zone is unfavorable to agriculture, because of its frequent periods of drought. The soil of the Ukraine is one of the most fertile on the whole globe. More than three-fourths of the Ukraine lies in the Black Earth Region, and many varieties of soil in the northwestern part of the Ukraine are by no means without value and at least equal to the best soils of Germany.

The first and main cause is the lack of enlightenment among the people of the Ukraine. The illiteracy of the Ukrainian peasant rendered almost inaccessible to him all the great progress of agricultural science. The old methods of cultivation, the primitive agricultural implements, waste his energy and his stock of living resources. The use of agricultural machines, which may be of great significance even in intensive farming on a small scale, is almost unknown to the Ukrainian peasant. The progressive amelioration of the soil and the national rotation of crops is not at all of wide application. And all efforts at enlightening the Ukrainian peasantry are hindered as much as possible by the governments dominating them, by their Polish and their Russian masters.

The second cause of the sad condition of Ukrainian agriculture lay in their unsound property conditions. The foreign conquerors, who were continually attracted by the fertility of the Ukrainian land, after taking possession of the land, divided it among their upper classes. The foreign conquerors have succeeded in denationalizing the Ukrainian nobility, have succeeded even in developing the republican Cossack organization into a new class of landowners and, very largely in russifying them. Foreign rule in the Ukraine has always supported foreign ownership of land on a large scale, and the Ukrainian peasant must be satisfied with small, mediocre and widely scattered bits of land.

While the foreign colonists who settled in Southern Ukraine upon the invitation of Catherine II were given 65 hectares of land per head, the Ukrainian peasant, after the abolition of serfdom, in 1861, was given a maximum of 3.5 hectares, and in many cases only 1.5 hectares per head. In half a century the rural population had doubled, while the area of cultivation has not increased perceptibly at all. The result was a very minute division of the land to accommodate the individual farmer, and this division is enforced by scattered holdings absurdly small in size due partly to divided land inheritance generation after generation, partly owing to the subdivision and periodic redistribution of communal fields, and partly owing to the preference for land acquired by inheritance rather than land acquired by purchase because of a belief in greater security of title.

Under these conditions a proper crop system cannot be maintained because the smallness of the holdings requires group action in sowing and harvesting crops. The alternative would require the individual to cultivate his tiny strip independently with tremendous loss of space and time. Farm animals are reduced in number to far below the level of efficiency, the low grade of living and the hopeless economic situation of the peasant conspire to foster primitive methods, and the consequence is that the average production of grain per acre is only little more than half as much in European Russia as in the United States, and the production per capita is far lower still. With his small holdings the peasant is required to consume the grain that he raises rather than to turn it into meat. Livestock is comparatively unimportant; there is a consequent lack of fertilizing manure; and the peasant is forced to be idle most of the winter, his productive efforts being confined for the most part to the crop season.

With the revolution of 1917 and under the Kerensky regime the land question was the most important for the legislators to settle. Hastily the government decreed that all land which had belonged to private proprietors and to the church should be given to the peasants, but the manner of doing this was not specified. When in October, 1917, the bolshevist regime took the place of the provisory jrovernment in Petrograd and Moscow, the bolshevists, considering all land as national property, decreed that all cultivation of the soil should be done on communistic principles. In the Ukraine this bolshevist law was strongly opposed by the rural population, who since the freeing of the peasants in 1862 had carried on their farms each for himself.

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Page last modified: 12-04-2022 18:52:35 ZULU