The subject of agriculture is infinitely fascinating and changing. Many years ago when Radio Erevan was still functioning, a listener asked: 'Can there by a way out of a totally hopeless situation?' Radio Erevan replied: 'We do not discusss agriculture on this programme'. There is a tendency in the Soviet Union to regard agriculture as a fairly hopeless sector. Even Brezhnev was prepared to admit that the problem of feeding the population is extremely urgent, more urgent than problems of energy and transport. Bearing in mind the problems facing energy and transport, it is clear that the Soviet leadership regards agriculture, its recovery and advance, as a matter of the highest priority. In this respect, it must be emphasised that the picture has altogether changed compared with, say, the days of Stalin. At that time agriculture was regarded as a resource to be exploited for the benefit of the rest of the economy. This meant poorly-paid peasants and low investment. In those days if one discussed the reasons for the poor performance of agriculture, one spoke in such terms. It was neglected, it was under‐ capitalised and there were few labour incentives, so naturally productivity was low. What one is now dealing with, however, is a completely different situation. Far from being exploited for the benefit of the rest of the economy, agriculture has become a millstone or ball and chain around the rest of the economy. Agriculture now takes 27 per cent of total Soviet investment, which is a very high figure by any international standard. The state budget pays out, in annual subsidies to cover the losses of the kolkhoz (collective) and state farm sector, a sum which looks like being 27 to 28 billion roubles in 1982. This is substantially more than the Soviet Union admits to spending on defence, and is by far the largest agricultural subsidy in human history. Far from deriving revenues from agriculture, they are diverting revenues from other sectors of the economy to agriculture.
Any analysis of Soviet agriculture, therefore, must focus on the reasons for the poor performance of a high priority sector. The question that must be asked is why, despite the, surely, sincere endeavours of the leadership to put matters right, and their willingness to pay very large sums to do so, the situation remains so bad that food shortages are endemic, despite large imports, especially of grain, but also of meat and butter, from the West. There seem to be two factors, not themselves