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'Siberia is indeed a land of superlatives: bigger than Europe and the US combined, with the biggest gas reserves in the world'

Get planting! Minister urges a return to Soviet-era food policy to grow potatoes

By The Siberian Times reporter
27 January 2015

Population told there is a 'need' to get back into the garden or field and pull together to overcome economic crisis.

Yakut farmer gathers potatoes from under the snow, as winter came unexpectadly. Picture: Dulus

Siberians should return to the days of Soviet-era potato planting in a bid to overcome the deepening economic crisis, a government minister has claimed.

Nikolay Simonov, the head of the Novosibirsk region’s food supply security, said there is a growing need to resurrect the idea of collective farming and domestic production.

And pointing out that food prices are steadily rising, he urged people to think about a return to their gardens to produce their own vegetables with the message: 'Get planting'.

Russia was once the biggest producer of potatoes in the world, with most of them grown by the population itself, but in recent years production has been falling.

The economic crisis, fuelled by the collapse in the rouble and the sanctions imposed by the West over Ukraine, has also now pushed food prices up.

Digging potatoes

Digging potatoes

Digging potatoes

'I believe we should address the people, and ask them to come back to their vegetable gardens - forgotten and deserted by many - and start planting.' Pictures: Pavel Kuznetsov, Olga Kulikova

Mr Simonov, who is also the Minister for Industry, Trade and Business Development, said: 'The first two working weeks of January showed higher food inflation than what we had during the last four months of 2014. 

'We must start looking for additional sources of food supplies. I believe we should address the people, and ask them to come back to their vegetable gardens - forgotten and deserted by many - and start planting. We have to resolve the potato supply issue in a calm manner, without panic.

'We’ve got to make it clear and give people a chance to realise they need to plant potatoes, because the security of food supply throughout the region is based upon guaranteed food provision to every family.'

It was the tsar Peter the Great who introduced potatoes to Russia 300 years ago and while they were at first rejected as 'devil's apples', they quickly formed part of the staple diet.

The potato became a key ingredient in many commodities as well as food, including in vodka, and during the worst famines of the Soviet era it was to save countless lives.

It also helped to ease food shortages during the Second World War.

Digging potatoes

Digging potatoes

Digging potatoes Digging potatoes

Digging potatoes

During the height of the Soviet era, more than a third of potatoes were grown in specialised state and collective farms. Pictures: Andrey Leutin, Museum of History of Moscow, Anna Dmitrochenko

Russia led the world in terms of potato producing, up until the end of the Soviet Union in the 1990s when China became the largest grower, followed by India. Recent figures show about 30 million tonnes of potatoes are produced in Russia every year, although that number is falling.

During the height of the Soviet era, more than a third of potatoes were grown in specialised state and collective farms, but now only 13 per cent is produced by agricultural enterprises.

In contrast, 79 per cent are now grown by ordinary people in their gardens and allotments.

Now Mr Simonov wants to get back to basics and is calling for the population to pull together to increase this number – and the quantities produced.

Speaking during a meeting at Novosibirsk City Hall, he added: 'There is only a handful of collective farms and farming estates planting potatoes. We should get ready for spring and let certain social groups have access to land so that they can find a way to arrange their own potato supplies.'

Comments (6)

During WW2 in America & also the great depression before most Americans even in cities grew vegetables to help feed the country ! I feel those days are coming again & know vegetable gardening in my area & is semi-tropical ! Gardening is in the fall/winter/spring ! Summer is too hot except for tropical crops! Seems like food has been an issue throughout Russian history! During the depression of thirties 7.5 million Americans starved to death in 12 years(1929-1941) in a population of 130-140 million at that time ! Half the population was rural, now only 15% are rural !
Ronnie Safreed, Miami Springs Florida-USA/America
29/07/2016 09:21
Great pictures. Life there looks difficult, but honest.
John, Gardner, MA, USA
05/02/2015 07:44
What variety of potato are they growing? They seem to be very productive.

I agree with the previous commenters.
Colleen, NE Calif, USA
02/02/2015 02:31
But now it will be just an option for those willing to grow potatoes.
Enrique, Spain
29/01/2015 22:13
What beautiful memories these photos bring back. My maternal and paternal family still plant fields and fields of potatoes and do not use chemical fertilisers - only the manure from their animals.

My mother, a DP, in England used to have her own allotment and get us children to help weed and dig. These potatoes were absolutely delicious - we still eat our own potatoes.

Amazing how in Australia my siblings children are also growing their own produce! I suppose they know the difference.

Thank you Siberian Times for bringing back fond memories and showing that it is still being done.
Valentyna, Perth, Australia
28/01/2015 14:12
Gardening is a lost art in many places of the world. Many of the kids of today have it very easy. Most are loafers, they waste their time playing those stupid computer games, and then grow up to be lazy, with no skills. they all need to learn how to work. America has the most lazy kids of anywhere in the world, and they think the world owes them a free ride.
Knowing how to be productive and growing food, could be the difference between eating and living, or going hungry and dying.
Darwin, Utah USA
28/01/2015 09:38

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