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1904-8 av.

6.93

6.71

-0.22

-0.13

1909-13 av.

7.3

7.68

+0.38

+0.31

1920-4 av.

8.12

6.42

-1.7

-0.68

1925-9 av.

8.49

7.88

-0.61

-0.1

1929

8.64

7.42

-1.22

+0.46

1930

8.71

7. 8

-0.91

+0.84

1931

8.78

6.58

-2.2

-1.75

1932

8.86

7.04

-1.82

-0.55

1933

8.93

6.86

-2.07

+0.29

1934

9.01

6.88

-2.13

-0.67

1930-4 av.

8.86

7.03

-1.83

-0.37

1935

9.08

7.53

-1.55

+ 1.01

1936

9.15

5.78

-3.37

-1.28

1937

9.23

9.4

+0.17

+0.7

1938

9.3

7.36

-1.94

-0.62

1939

9.38

7.40

-1.92

-0.92

1935-9 av.

9.23

7.49

-1.73

-0.22

Source: Wheatcroft and Davies, 1994.

Source: Wheatcroft and Davies, 1994.

1920s it is as high as 25 percent. It is likely that peculiarities of the climate were the main cause of this difference in production variability. In the 1930s, dry weather generally prevailed while a great contrast in weather conditions was observed from year to year in the 1920s. A Soviet report named 1931, 1934, 1936, 1938, and 1939 as dry years in the USSR (Rudenko, 1958). However, only 1931, and especially 1936, were years of dangerous drought that extended over many of the major grain-producing regions. No annually repeated droughts occurred in this decade. The weather conditions of the 1930s were certainly unfavorable but not so bad as to be a serious enough factor to cause mass famine. Moreover, the peak of the mass famine occurred in 1932 and 1933, years which, as we show below, were good in terms of climate conditions.

Figure 5.1. Grain production and scale of drought in the USSR, 1928-1940

Figure 5.1. Grain production and scale of drought in the USSR, 1928-1940

Source: for grain production figures: Wheatcroft and Davies, 1994.

The first three years of the period, 1928, 1929, and 1930, were characterized by relatively good weather, although some problems were reported. Unusual weather conditions occurred in the Ukraine in 1928. At the end of April a strong dust storm was observed in the southern part. The storm blew away the top layer of soil, and later deposits of this dust were observed in Romania and Poland. Winter cereals were damaged and in some places completely destroyed. The total area affected by the dust storm reached millions of square kilometers. According to some calculations, the total amount of soil blown away by the storm reached 15 million tons (Zavarina, 1954). There were also reports of a dust storm in the North Caucasus, where winter crops were seriously damaged (Buchinsky, 1974). Low yields for cereal crops in 1928 are reflected in the official statistics (Selskoe khozyastvo v SSSR: 1935, 1936).

One of the best years of the decade was 1930, which was characterized by very favorable weather conditions and record grain production. Poor harvests were only reported from the North Caucasus, where no rain fell in July and August. The drought killed the maize crop in many districts of the region but, importantly, the wheat crop survived. Some problems were reported in Siberia during the period of harvesting, when heavy rains occurred from 12 August to 10 September (Viola, Danilov, and Manning: 615). Wheatcroft and Davies (1994) state that in 1930, the year in which collectivization was launched, the good harvest provided the illusion among the political leaders that the new policy could bring success. This illusion (if it existed) vanished during the following year when the country was shaken by a severe drought.

The drought of 1931 was included in the list of "catastrophic droughts" in the report by the Central Administration of the Unified Hydrometeorological Service of the USSR (TsUEG) (Opyt pred-varitelnogo analiza..., 1933). The report regarded a region as threatened by a drought if precipitation was less than 5 millimeters in ten days. This norm was widely accepted in the 1930s and was based on the assumption (proposed by Russian scientists in the 1910s) that such an amount of moisture is inaccessible to plants as it is only sufficient to moisten the soil (Rudenko, 1958).

The TsUEG report (Opytpredvaritelnogo analiza., 1933) states that the spring drought of 1931 spread from Astrakhan and Volgograd (then Stalingrad) to the left bank of the Volga river and Kama, as well as to the basins of the rivers Ufa and Ural, and occupied the whole steppe zone of Western Siberia. According to the TsUEG classification, the drought of 1931 belonged to the "eastern" geographical type. Another Soviet report stated that the drought was of a rare type that occurred when an invasion of both the polar air mass and Azor anticyclones led to the dominance of dry weather over a large part of European Russia and the southern part of Western Siberia. According to the report, similar phenomena were observed only in 1890, 1911, and 1921 (Rudenko, 1958).

Figure 5.2., based on a calculation of the HTC coefficient, shows that from May to July the main area of the drought was located to the east of the Volga river (Figure 5.2.). This area experienced more than 50 percent of dry ten-day periods (decades with precipitation of less than 5 millimeters a decade) during March to May. Between 10 and 50 percent of decades were dry in western Ukraine, Leningradskaya (Northwestern region) and Ivanovskaya (Central region) province and some provinces of the Middle Volga.

The summer of 1931 was only a little better than the spring. During the summer, 50 percent of dry decades were observed in a relatively small area—the basin of the Low Volga and Low Ural. The basin of the

Figure 5.2. Area affected by drought in 1931

Figure 5.2. Area affected by drought in 1931

M 26-50% | 76-100% ^ Moscow river Don, some provinces of the Central Black Earth region, Tatarstan, and the south of Western Siberia all had between 30 and 50 percent of decades that were dry during the summer. The report states that the second and third decades of July were also very unfavorable there. In June, in the Middle Volga region, weather conditions were satisfactory but then 35 days of strong, hot winds were observed. It was said to be the most severe drought there since 1921. The oat crop was completely destroyed by the drought in 23 out of the 35 districts on the left bank of the Volga. As a result, only 8 of the 35 districts managed to produce any surplus grain. The remaining 23 districts failed to harvest enough grain for their own food needs. Ten districts did not even have enough grain reserves to sow their crop areas. In Bashkirskaya republic (the Urals) there was no rain during the period when the cereal was ripening. Drought and sukhovei came again in July and damaged the harvest in all the main districts of Bashkiria.

Although not reliable as an absolute basis, the official agricultural statistics do indicate that four regions of European Russia—the Urals, the Middle Volga, the Low Volga, and Western Siberia—were characterized by a considerable fall in grain production in 1931 (Table 5.8.). In the Urals region, production dropped by 64 percent of the previous year's

Table 5.8. Official data on grain production (millions of tons) in the key economic regions of the USSR, 1928-1934

Regions

1928

1929

1930

1931

1932

1933

1934

C. Black Earth

5.9

7.0

7.4

6.6

7.1

7.4

7.1

Volga-Vyatka

4.3

4.1

4.1

3.9

4.2

5.1

5.2

Middle Volga

5.3

3.4

4.3

3.3

4.5

5.5

7.1

Low Volga

3.8

3.3

3.9

2.9

3.2

4.2

No data

Urals

4.9

3.6

4.7

1.7

3.6

4.2

No data

N. Caucasus

5.1

5.4

6.7

7.2

5.9

8.1

No data

West Siberia

No data

5.2

5.4

3.2

4.2

6.7

8.6

Ukraine

13.9

18.7

22.7

18.3

14.7

22.3

12.3

Source: Selskoe khozyastvo SSSR: 1935, 1936.

Source: Selskoe khozyastvo SSSR: 1935, 1936.

level (Selskoe khozyastvo v SSSR: 1935, 1936). In Western Siberia, grain production decreased by 40 percent. The production shortfall in the Middle Volga reached 23 percent, and in the Low Volga ten days of drought and strong dry winds were enough to reduce yields to 3.8 centners per hectare, as compared to 6 centners per hectare in a normal year (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2001: 203). Total grain production fell by 17 percent of the level of 1930. The weather in 1931 was thus the overriding factor responsible for crop failure in these key regions of the USSR.

The weather conditions in 1932 are of great interest to experts studying the history of mass famine in the USSR. According to official statistics as well as Western estimates, grain production in 1932 was at roughly the same level as in 1931 (see Table 5.1.). Wheatcroft and Davies (1994) describe the situation in 1932 as a continuation of the drought of 1931, and this certainly exacerbated the grain-supply crisis which occurred during the following year's (1932-1933) famine. Was the weather so bad as to be responsible for the crop failure in 1932 and the subsequent catastrophic famine in the Ukraine and some other regions of the USSR? No Soviet report includes 1932 in its list of years with problematic climate conditions. There was a drought in some areas, but the leading Soviet experts on drought note that it was local and centered outside the Ukraine (most affected by famine in 1932-1933) (Ru-denko, 1958: 164).

In the autumn of 1932, the weather conditions became the subject of heated discussion among the Soviet party leadership in connection with the contradicting estimates of grain production made by the Cen tral Statistical Administration and Narkomzem (the Ministry of Agriculture) . The statistical service insisted that the preliminary estimate of yields made in May should be reduced, as weather conditions had deteriorated during the summer. They also referred to local authorities, pointing out that the condition of the crop had deteriorated (from mid-June) because of the dry weather. Narkozem responded by referring to original meteorological data of the Soviet network, which proved that weather conditions in most regions of the country had not deteriorated from late June, except in Moskovskaya province, Volga-Vyatka, and Low Volga (the left bank) (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2001: 496).

Indeed, the meteorological data (presented in their original form in Table 5.9.) show that in May most regions enjoyed sufficient precipitation, with the single exception of the left bank of the Volga river and, perhaps, some districts of Western Siberia. During June, a drought occurred in the Urals region (including Bashkiria) and many provinces of the Middle Volga (mostly located on the left bank). In July, the drought was still affecting the left bank of the Middle Volga. However, key grain-producing regions such as the North Caucasus, the Central Black Earth region and the Ukraine, were not affected by the drought. The North Caucasus suffered from extremely rainy weather. In July the total amount of precipitation in the region was about twice more than norm (about 50mm). In Ukraine during June rainy weather (June norm equals 72 mm) also prevailed. In autumn, the authorities had to revise the plan of grain procurement for North Caucasus and Ukraine but it is difficult to confirm that the revision was connected only with the weather anomaly. Materials from the KGB give the idea that the preliminary planned targets were, evidently, above the real potential for these regions devastated by a desperate shortage of human and material resources after the food crisis of 1931.

The weather in 1933 was good in most regions of the USSR. In July only the Middle Volga region reported a risk of an extreme drought which threatened to cause severe damage to the spring crop. The peasants were in a state of panic because of the oncoming drought, according to a KGB. In late July, information emerged about sukhovei and dry weather, which affected some districts of the left bank of the Volga. This weather was reported to have killed 5.2 percent of the winter crop. In the most affected districts of the region this figure was as high as 40 to 70 percent of the sown area. In these districts peasants were in panic (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2001: 781). This dry weather possibly

Table 5.9. Precipitation in spring and summer in the regions of the USSR, 1932*

Region

May Total

1st

June 2nd

3rd

1st

July 2nd

3rd

decade

decade

decade

decade

decade

decade

Northern

45

good

16

17

15

9

9

Moscow

40

good

15

12

15

15

10

Black Earth

40

moderate

25

26

22

21

17

Volga-Vyatka

45

good

3

17

32

15

7

Urals

60

scarce

8

8

20

25

25

Bashkiria

45

scarce

0

14

25

30

11

Tatarstan

40

moderate

0

10

16

20

20

Middle Volga (right bank)

45

scarce

0

12

15

20

5

Middle Volga (left bank)

25

drought

drought

drought

drought

drought

drought

Low Volga (left bank)

15

6

5

10

12

18

17

N. Caucasus

45

14

40

30

30

20

42

W. Siberia

scarce

scarce

20

24

13

25

18

Ukraine

55

moderate

65

36

18

18

28

* According to Soviet meteorologists, if a region experienced less than 5 mm of precipitation in a ten-day period (15 mm a month), it faced the threat of drought.

Source: Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2001: 496).

* According to Soviet meteorologists, if a region experienced less than 5 mm of precipitation in a ten-day period (15 mm a month), it faced the threat of drought.

Source: Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2001: 496).

also affected some areas of the Urals region (part of Bashkiria and Chelyabinskaya provinces) (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2002: 170). On the other hand, a report from the Ukraine in mid-July 1933 said that very good harvests were being obtained, especially in the steppe zone of the region (ibid.: 775). In the North Caucasus the harvest was excellent (ibid.: 781). Despite favorable weather conditions in 1933, the official statistics (after revision) confirm that the total grain production was only slightly higher than in 1932 and 1931, which again reflects the desperate condition of Soviet agriculture.

The following year, 1934, brought drought in the production zone of the country. The drought was centered on the Ukraine, where the dry weather was observed from April to July (except in the western provinces) (Buchinsky, 1974). The vegetation period was characterized by higher than average temperatures, between two and six degrees, and very low amounts of moisture in summer (in July and August) (Rudenko, 1958). The especially poor harvest in the Ukraine is confirmed by the KGB materials. One report states that during April, May and June, precipitation in southern Ukraine was half that in the same disastrous period of 1921 (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2002: 209). For example, in Poltava (central Ukraine) no rain fell for 115 days, a record for this area (Buchinsky, 1974). In late August 1934, the Soviet authorities adopted a directive lowering the planned target for state grain provision for the affected regions. For the Ukraine it was reduced by 1.9 million tons.

Besides the Ukraine, the drought of 1934 affected the North Caucasus and part of the Low Volga basin to the south of Samara. A report from 14 May 1934 states that because of the spring drought the Soviet authorities ordered the sowing of additional areas in the North Caucasus and Central Black Earth region (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2002: 109). In the North Caucasus a large area of winter crop was killed. The region received a seed fund to carry out sowing on the damaged area (ibid.: 111).

The drought of 1934 affected mainly the western part of European Russia. In the southeastern part, dry weather was observed only on the left bank of the Low Volga. In May, in Saratov province, sukhovei were accompanied by very high temperatures (34 degrees) and low humidity (less than 11 percent). It was observed that dust carried by this dry storm had been kept in the atmosphere for over three days (Buchinsky, 1974). However, the remainder of the territory of the Volga basin was not affected by this poor weather. One Soviet report states that in 1934, dry weather in the southeast of European Russia was interrupted by rainy weather brought by cyclones, significantly improving the situation in the area. In autumn it was reported that an excellent harvest had been obtained in the Volga basin. According to the report, after several poor years in terms of weather conditions, that year was most favorable for meeting target plans in this region (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2002: 287).

Although these historical documents confirm that the total grain harvest was low in 1934, the official statistics published for this year look quite good. However, the revised agricultural statistics (published in the Soviet Union in the 1960s) show a shortfall in grain production of 19 percent when compared with the record year 1930 (surprisingly, Western estimates give higher figures for 1934). A comparison of the official figures for the regions shows that the Central Black Earth region faced a fall in grain production of only 4 percent as compared with 1930, but the Ukraine's harvest was 46 percent lower than in 1930. It is important to stress the impossibility of analyzing absolute figures for grain harvests because the official statistics for both 1930 and 1934 are certainly exaggerated. In 1934, the Soviet authorities stated that the average yield was 8.5 centners per hectare, but this was the so-called biological yield. Modern Russian experts believe that the average yield was 6.3 centners per hectare, and 39 percent of kolkhozes had a harvest of less than 6 centners per hectare (Moshkov, 2002).

Weather conditions in the second half of the 1930s were certainly unfavorable. It is known that in 1935 a rich harvest was obtained in the USSR, although according to Soviet (revised) data the harvest was 10 percent lower than in 1930. There are no reports of drought or other weather anomalies for that year. A record grain harvest was reported by both Soviet and Western sources for 1937, although it is difficult to judge the reliability of the figures. However, these two good years alternated with three years of drought—in 1936, 1938, and 1939.

The drought of 1936 was one of the largest in Soviet history. The drought extended over a vast territory of the USSR, including southern and central Ukraine, the Central Black Earth region, the Low and Middle Volga, some districts of middle and low Kama and Vyatka, and the Urals (Rudenko, 1958) (Figure 5.3.). In some regions (as in the Volga basin) the drought started in spring and continued throughout the whole summer. One indicator of crop failure is the revision of the planned targets for grain procurement. A report from 9 October 1936 states that local party officials in Bashkiria, Sverdlovskaya (Urals), Saratovskaya (Low Volga), Vyatsky, and Nizhegorodskaya (Volga-Vyatka) appealed to Moscow for their procurement targets to be lowered (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2002: 843). The total grain production of the country was the lowest for decades. According to official data it fell to 66 percent of the 1930 level and was even 20 percent less than in 1931 (Table 5.1.). The planned amount for procured grain was the lowest in the 1930s—about 12 million tons. There was a significant fall in the number of livestock that year.

One of the characteristics of this drought was that it affected not only southern regions but also the central part of European Russia, as shown by Figure 5.3. The KGB materials confirm that the drought brought many problems to these regions. A report dated 1 November

Figure 5.3. Area affected by drought in 1936

Figure 5.3. Area affected by drought in 1936

U 26-50% | 76-100% if Moscow on the situation in the livestock sector notes that the state program for a steady increase in livestock had been jeopardized by the shortage of forage caused by unfavorable weather in many central provinces, and the report named Moskovskaya,Yaroslavskaya, Ivanovskaya, Gorkovskaya (Nizegorodskaya), and Kirovskaya (Vyatskaya) (ibid.: 865).

One further characteristic of the drought of 1936 was that it was accompanied by dust storms in some regions. The region that suffered most because of the dry winds was the North Caucasus. A significant part of the crop in Stavropolskaya province and some surrounding districts was destroyed, while in the rest of the area the harvest was very low (including areas that had been re-sown in the late spring). About 50 percent of the winter wheat crop was totally destroyed. There was even greater damage to sunflower and maize crops. Millet was also reported to be affected by the continuing dry winds. The vegetable crop was also very small. One Soviet expert later gave a figure of 300,000 hectares of crops damaged by the dust storms (about 10 percent of the total cereal crop area if one uses the modern administrative division of the region). The figure includes 186,000 hectares of crops that were destroyed completely (Buchinsky, 1974). The drought badly affected the livestock sector of the region, since from the early spring until late autumn there was no possibility for grazing because the grass had been scorched by the drought. Hayfields were also destroyed and the peasants had to move their herds into the Kalmyk steppe (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2002: 886).

Strong, dry winds were also observed in the Central Black Earth region. A report from Voronezhskaya province states that dry winds at the beginning of the sowing season, and then insufficient precipitation, left winter and spring crops damaged in some districts of the province (ibid.: 850). Another report states that in June, when the prospects for a poor harvest became clear, many peasants started to leave the kolkhozes for urban areas and new industrial construction sites (ibid.: 868). The drought of 1936 belongs to the "central" geographical type and affected only European Russia. Western Siberia, for example, was characterized by a relatively good harvest, although some provinces of Siberia experienced rather rainy weather and deteriorating conditions for harvesting during September (ibid.: 842).

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to discuss in detail the droughts of 1938 and 1939. Agricultural statistics for many regions are missing for this period, thus only the main features of the climatic conditions and their impact on agricultural production are discussed below.

The center of the 1938 drought was located in an area between the Low Volga and the Urals. It affected eastern parts of the Ukraine, the Central Black Earth region, the basin of the middle and low Don, the Middle and Low Volga regions, and the North Caucasus (Rudenko, 1958). Minimal precipitation in the vegetation period was observed in an area between the Low Volga and Urals, at about 35 percent of the norm. The weather in 1938 was remarkable for the very high temperatures in the northern part of European Russia. In the drought of 1938, the average temperature in July in Leningrad was over 21 degrees (3.5 degrees above the norm), and a maximum of 30 degrees was reached, a temperature more characteristic for regimes in southern latitudes (Buchinsky, 1974). It was also reported that in Moscow province such intense dry weather and drought had never been observed before (Zava-rina, 1954). The decline in grain production in 1938 was more than 11 percent, as compared with 1930 (official figures).

In 1939 the center of the drought was located in an area to the east of the river Volga. This continuing spring/summer drought also covered southern and southeastern parts of the Ukraine, the northeastern districts of the North Caucasus, the eastern part of the Central Black Earth region, and Volga-Vyatka. Only about 30 percent of the normal amount of precipitation during the vegetation period was observed on the right bank of the Volga (Rudenko, 1958).

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