THE AGRICULTURAL MINISTRIES
Barbara Ann Chotiner
Agriculture was perhaps the most intractable and important area of policy in the Soviet era. In 1989, James H. Noren noted that "[a]lmost half the population's consumption comes directly from agriculture or indirectly through the food processing industry and part of light industry." 1 Long-time students of rural affairs, Roy and Betty Laird, characterized the "agricultur[al sector as] the largest single segment of the Soviet economy." 2
A vital area of politics as well as policy, agriculture helped to make and unmake Soviet political leaders. For example, difficulties in providing dependable supplies of a wide assortment of comestibles at reasonable prices, especially through the state stores, contributed to the turn toward the right in central governmental policy in early 1991. Participants in the August 1991 coup almost certainly believed that the increasing scarcity of affordable food would encourage Soviet citizens to accept a curtailment of newly-gained freedoms in exchange for a more reliable administration of the economy. After the failure of the coup, one of the first acts of the new State Council was to tie the ten participating republics into a joint scheme to channel interrepublican food flows and to deal with commodity imports (including assistance). 3 The link between the provision of food and political stability remained painfully apparent in the winter of 1991-92, as the new governments of the Commonwealth of Independent States sought to manage unwieldy economies and societies.
Although this chapter focuses on Soviet Government institutions in the agricultural sector, it should be noted at the outset that until the repeal of Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution in 1990, the central leadership of the Communist Party made agricultural policy. And the party's responsibilities were not limited to policy initiation. Lower-level CPSU organs monitored compliance with party policy in agriculture, rendered assistance in meeting its goals, and resolved disputes when existing party and/or state decrees and laws were in conflict or