Table 36 Grain production per capita and number of migrants from the provinces of European Russia in 1911 and 1912

Province Number of migrants in Net grain production

1911 (thousands) per capita in 1910-1911

(tons per annum)

Poltavskaya (7*)



Ekaterinoslavskaya (5)



Kharkovskaya (7)



Khersonskaya (5)



Mogilevskaya (8)



Kievskaya (6)



Chernigovskaya (7)



Vyatskay (4)



Podol'skay (6)



Tavricheskaya (5)



Province Number of migrants in Net grain production

1912 (thousands) per capita in 1911-1912

(tons per annum)

Vyatskaya (4)



Samarskaya (3)



Penzenskaya (2)



Tambovskaya (1)



Kazanskaya (2)



Ufimskaya (4)



Poltavskaya (7)



Voronezskaya (1)



Saratovskaya (2)






Simbirskaya (2)



*1. Central Black Earth region; 2. Middle Volga; 3. Low Volga; 4. Urals; 5. Novoros-

syskaya; 6. Southwestern region; 7. Malorrosyskaya (Ukraine); 8. Belarus Source: Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Rossii: 1915, 1916.

*1. Central Black Earth region; 2. Middle Volga; 3. Low Volga; 4. Urals; 5. Novoros-

syskaya; 6. Southwestern region; 7. Malorrosyskaya (Ukraine); 8. Belarus Source: Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Rossii: 1915, 1916.

seems to be no way that peasants could reduce their own consumption in order to compensate the losses of grain that could be sold on the open market. This is why the peasants had to reduce the amount of grain for sale on the market even if it resulted in their suffering some financial losses as compared with a normal year. As we estimated above, the harvest of 1906 was lower by roughly 15 percent, but the regions outside the agricultural zone faced a reduction in the grain available on the market of up to 33 percent. Thus the fluctuation in terms of grain available on the market could be much higher than that of the grain harvest.

Another report reveals some of the consequences for the regions that faced grain shortages in 1911. An official statistical report (Statisti-cheskii ezhegodnik Rossii: 1915, 1916) states that a wave of peasant migration from European Russia (and the Ukraine) to Siberia and Central Asia in 1912 was associated with the poor harvest of 1911. According to the report, the difference in the list of provinces with the highest migration in 1911 and 1912 could be explained by the severe drought in the Volga basin and the Central Black Earth region in 1911. In fact, a comparison of the following data on the number of migrants with net grain production proves that the shift in the list of provinces can be explained in this way. In 1912, those from the listed provinces were migrants facing severe crop failure, while in 1911 this was not the case (Table 3.6.).

The food problems in Russia in 1916-1917 are better known to historians. They emerged not because of weather anomalies but due to the disruption of market mechanisms in Russia from 1914 to 1917. As Gatrell (1986) argues, within three short years all that had been achieved over the past two generations to develop the agricultural commodity market was undone. Political factors were responsible for food problems in the last few years of the tsarist regime.

For the Russian Empire, the war began in August 1914. Troop mobilization caused no less serious problems for the agricultural sector. In 1914, in spite of the disruption caused by this first mobilization of Russian peasants, the total sown area increased, but weather conditions were unfavorable. As a consequence, the overall grain harvest in 1914 was lower than the bumper harvest of the previous year and than the prewar (1909 to 1913) average. In 1915, the harvest was 10 percent above the pre-war average. The sowing of grain declined slightly, but yields were 5 percent higher than the pre-war average. Moreover, because of the embargo on foreign trade, Russia had around 11 million tons of additional grain that Russian peasants retained in 1914-1915 and 1915-1916. Peasants began to consume more grain themselves, fattened their livestock, and distilled the residue into vodka (Gatrell, 1994).

Could this tendency towards increased consumption within peasant households have caused grain shortages in the country? According to the available statistics (Popov, 1925), the amount of grain on the market reached about 17 million tons in the good year 1912-1913 (see Table 4.3 in Chapter 4). A simple calculation shows that this surplus grain would feed a rural population of 120 million entirely, even if the peasants increased their consumption by 30 percent (an extra 0.14 tons above the usual ration of 0.42 to 0.44 tons per capita). A grain deficit on the market, similar to that of 1906 (when the amount of marketable grain fell by 33 percent), could happen only as a result of a 10 to 12 percent increase in peasant consumption. Thus even a modest increase in peasant consumption would cause two quite different final results. For peasants, an increase in consumption of 10 to 12 percent (an additional 0.05 tons per capita) would not result in a great improvement in the diet of their livestock, but overall the country could suffer a lack of grain on the market. The following events illustrate the existence of this problem.

The harvest in 1916 was worse than in 1915. The area under crops had probably decreased slightly and grain yields had fallen by around 4 percent compared with the period 1909-1913. In the northern consumption regions, the harvest decreased by 9 percent of the pre-war level, while in the southern production area grain output declined by 14 percent of the pre-war figure (Gatrell, 1986). This decline would not have been crucial under normal circumstances, but in the conditions of 1916 it led to serious food problems in Russian cities during 1917.

Gatrell (1994) provides an analysis of the main reasons for the existence of food problems in central Russian cities in 1916. The main problem was the distribution of grain. In 1916 there was a good harvest in the Low Volga and western Siberia, but a bottleneck in railway transportation made supply to the central regions much more complicated, if not impossible. However, the major cause of food problems was the dismantling of the market mechanism. In its place, a system of fixed prices for government purchases was introduced. Some produce was available at unregulated prices but the fixed prices also provided little incentive for peasants to bring their grain to the cities. In November 1916 the government established a grain levy, anticipating the Bolshevik prodrazverstka. It coincided with an inflation in the price of manufactured goods. No subsidies were offered to food producers (as happened in Britain). The peasants naturally reacted to the grain levy by reducing the amount of food for sale to the government. They held on to their grain, hoping to sell it on the open market. Neither the tsarist regime nor the provisional government that came to power in February 1917

were able to propose a policy of food procurement that could satisfy the interests of the peasants and the needs of consumers. The imposing of a state monopoly on grain by the provisional government in March 1917 only caused the situation to deteriorate. A catastrophic decline in urban and military food supply followed. This helped destabilize the provisional government within a few months.

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