«We need to look into the past in order to understand the present and foresee the future»
N.A.Nazarbayev

The Virgin Lands Programme: ups and downs. Photos of that time

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The Virgin Lands Programme: ups and downs. Photos of that time
The two-year national plan for cultivation the virgin lands was accomplished within one year with significant exceeding

People planted crops in this land and the land grew people. Metaphorically speaking, the virgin lands gave the richest harvest of workers, patriots and professionals

L. Brezhnev

There are so many significant events in the history of both Soviet and independent Kazakhstan that left their marks in memory of people — direct participants and their descendants. The cultivation of virgin lands is among them. This grand project couldn’t vanish from the history. The echo of that time still has an effect on our life. It had special significance for Kazakhstan both positive and negative.

The Virgin Land Programme started the development of productive forces in the republic that became an integral part of the national economy of the Soviet Union. It was accompanied by the sharp rising of exploration of mineral resources and using them in industry, emergence of new sectors and huge plants including those connected with the needs of agriculture. Significant industrial hubs were established in different regions. Construction of power plants, reconstruction and expansion of the capacity of enterprises of nonferrous metallurgy in Dzhezkazgan and Balkhash gained increased importance. That was the period when the strong basis for Kazakhstan’s construction industry was created. The light and food industry continued their development: the Alma-Ata Cotton Plant and Semipalatinsk Worsted Cloth Plant, sewing factories in Ust-Kamenogorsk and Abai, knitting factories in Dzhezkazgan and Aktyubinsk, new meat- and milk-processing factories and other enterprises expanded their capacity. The railway and road networks were developed. In 1950-1975 railways in Kokchetav, Kustanai, Pavlodar, Tselinograd and North-Kazakhstan region rose from 1713 to 3896 km. The total amount of surfaced roads increased from 2.3 thousand to 44.2 thousand km over the same period. The construction of new facilities supported the economic growth in the country.

During the first year of the Programme, the land provided the crop capacity of 9 centners per hectare. At that time taking into account newest technologies it was equal to the average harvest. At the initial stage, the Programme was aimed at providing grain to the country. And the target was met within three or four years. Kazakhstan produced around one billion poods of grain annually. This achievement was called "Kazakhstan’s Billion".

However, cultivation of great amount of virgin lands resulted in the sharp decrease of grasslands and prolonged crisis in the traditional sector of Kazakhstan’s economy. Thousands of hectares of land were taken away to establish new settlements and construction of infrastructure. As the result, it damaged the traditional sector of the national economy — cattle-breeding. In turn, it led to the lack of meat and dairy products. In 1955, the Central Committee of the Communist Party adopted the special directive to oblige 47 steppe areas and 225 collective farms (sovkhoz) to raise livestock. The republic started the work on irrigating lands and expanding feed capacity. The hard efforts and labour resulted in increasing of livestock in Kazakhstan from 27.7 million in 1928 to 37.4 million in 1960. Nevertheless, the population growth led to some problems with food. This fact forced the Government to raise meat and oil prices (by 30 and 25 percent accordingly) in 1962. Kazakhstan didn’t accomplish the plan to triple meat production.

We should notice that the Virgin Lands Programme made Kazakhstan attractive for people from other Soviet republics. Dozens of thousands of specialists in agriculture arrived here to cultivate virgin lands. In the first half of 1954 more than twenty thousand people moved to Akmola region. Moreover, 1386 specialists and drivers were sent to the region by industrial enterprises. In 1954-1955, 4.5 thousand people were sent to collective farms and in 1959 the number of migrants achieved fifteen thousand. In total 266.6 thousand drivers were sent to Kazakhstan in 1953-1958. This resulted in reducing the social role of national customs and traditions, decrease in the number of Kazakh schools and publications in Kazakh language. The northern parts of the republic faced language and demographic problems.

In general, the programme for cultivation virgin land made Kazakhstan one of the most important producers of grain in the world. At the same time, it resulted in the prolonged crisis in agriculture in Kazakhstan.

Below we bring to your attention archival photos depicting the period of cultivation of virgin lands in Kazakhstan.

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Migrants in Kazakhstan

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First furrow

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Family of migrants to cultivate virgin lands

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Construction of railways in the area of virgin lands. The photo depicts narrow gauge steam locomotives that arrived at the Kokchetav station

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In early April 1955 migrants from Leninsky area, Moscow, arrived at North-Kazakhstan region. They established Leninsky collective farm in a place where not too long ago a wasteland was

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Member of Komsomol V. Abylgazin, who graduated from the Ust-Kamenogorsk Agricultural Technical School, works for a new collective farm

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At the school of the Kalininsky collective farm, Akmola region

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Family houses for workers in the Urneksky collective farm, Kustanai region

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First day at the school of the Dalny collective farm, Akmola region

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New street in Khersonsky collective farm, Kokchetav region

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New store in the Leninsky collective farm, North-Kazakhstan region

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First train with Muscovites who arrived for harvesting. The photo depicts students of the Moscow State University who move to the Roslavlsky collective farm, Alma-Ata region

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New houses in the Urneksky collective farm, Kustanai region

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Mechanised threshing-floor in the Lenin collective farm, Taranovsky area, Kustanai region. Its productive capacity is twenty tonnes per hour. Fourteen mechanised threshing-floor constructed in this area

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This monument is a symbol of the virgin lands cultivation. The tractor plowed the first furrow in the Dvurechny collective farm, Akmola region

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First sowing

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Great harvest from virgin lands

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Seeding machine in the fields

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Settlements were constructed by young people

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Workers of the Dvurechny collective farm settled down in the place

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Harvest requires large storages

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New combines for Turgai steppe

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The Communist Party officials and Government members visit virgin lands. N. Khrushchev and D. Kunayev talk to national akyn (poet) Omar Shipin

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Kazakhstan’s billion

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Young people make their contribution to Kazakhstan’s billion

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Loading grain on an elevator

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Transportation of grain on the Irtysh River

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Mobile dental room, a present to Kustanai cultivators of virgin lands from workers of the German Democratic Republic

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Kazakhstan is awarded the Order of Lenin

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Kliment Voroshilov presents the Golden Star to Hero of Socialist Labour Ivan Rudsky

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First migrants to virgin lands

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Construction of houses for workers


Photo album (Virgin Lands Programme: personalities and photos of that time)


We express gratitude to the National Academic Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan for the provided archival materials


By Miras NURLANULY