Figure 8. Economic Activity in Belarus, 1995
Source: Based on information from Lerner Publications Company,
Geography Department, Belarus, Minneapolis, 1993, 46.
In 1993 agriculture and forestry accounted for almost
onequarter of the gross domestic product
almost 6 percent of the total agricultural output of the
Soviet Union (Belarus has 4 percent of the former Soviet
table 3, Appendix A). Agriculture employed 20
of the labor force.
During the Soviet era, agriculture in Belarus consisted
mainly of state and collective farms, with a sprinkling of
plots for private household use. In the early 1990s, the
government based its agricultural policies on that legacy.
Instead of disrupting the production of food for both
consumption and export, the authorities decided to
large-scale farming for which they believed the existing
equipment and capital stock were best suited. In 1994 the
Ministry of Agriculture planned to transform collective
state farms (see Glossary)
into joint-stock companies that would
agriculturally efficient and would keep providing most of
social services in rural areas.
In March 1993, Belarus added the Law on the Right to
Ownership to its Land Lease Law (March 1990). The law on
ownership limited purchases to small parcels for housing
orchards, stated that farming would depend on leased land,
allowed private farmers to lease only up to fifty hectares
long-term leases. This law meant that Belarus would not
private farming sector and that farming would stay in the
of the government, which owned the collective and state
In 1993 private agriculture accounted for 37 percent of
agricultural output, reflecting the increase in the number
private farms from eighty-four in 1990 to 2,730 in 1993.
the average size of private farms remained small:
hectares in 1993, compared with 3,114 hectares on average
collective farms and 3,052 hectares for state farms. In
private plots on large farms in rural areas and garden
urban areas continue to provide a significant amount of
just as they did in the Soviet era.
Belarus can be divided into three agricultural regions:
(flax, fodder, grasses, and cattle), central (potatoes and
and south (pastureland, hemp, and cattle). Belarus's cool
and dense soil are well suited to fodder crops, which
herds of cattle and pigs, and temperate-zone crops (wheat,
barley, oats, buckwheat, potatoes, flax, and sugar beets).
Belarus's soils are generally fertile, especially in the
valleys, except in the southern marshy regions.
Despite the progress made by the agricultural sector in
it suffered a set-back in 1994. A drought during the
contributed to a decline of 19 percent in the Belarusian
Wheat production declined 35 percent from the previous
while sugar beet production declined 31 percent and potato
production declined 29 percent. Animal products declined
percent; the number of cows decreased 2 percent, but the
of sheep declined 30 percent.
The greatest changes in agriculture in the first half
1990s were a decline in the amount of land under
a significant shift from livestock to crop production
the fact that crops had become a great deal more
before. The sales price for crops generally increased more
production costs, while inputs for livestock (such as
fodder) have increased in price beyond livestock sales
Many private farms faced difficulties, caused partly by
inflation, which wreaked havoc on preset contract prices,
payments, and budget subsidies.
In early 1993, Belarus's government replaced the system
"recommended" agricultural producer prices with "support"
which were intended as minimum guaranteed prices and could
adjusted in accord with price increases in agricultural
Meat prices were deregulated in the summer of 1993, and
budgetary subsidies were no longer provided to the
sector at all.
Basic foods were watched closely, however, and
sometimes "reprotected ." For example, prices were reset on rationed
February 1994 in response to a sharp increase in its
price. Another problem was lower food prices in Belarus
neighboring countries; the government maintained subsidies
food to keep prices low for the people of Belarus.
these subsidies strained the budget while encouraging
informal exports of food, or "food tourism," from
Because the agricultural sector is in critical
partly the consequence of a drought in the summer of 1994
reduced agricultural output by nearly 25 percent, the
gave it a special place in the 1995 budget. President
gave collective and state farms credits totaling 520
rubles to facilitate sowing and to purchase fertilizer. In
addition, by implementing sizable price increases for
products, pork products, and beef, the government hoped to
increase production of these commodities.
Forests cover nearly one-third of Belarus and are the
of raw materials for production of matches, pressboard,
furniture, timbers for coal mines, paper, paperboard, and
sections of prefabricated houses. However, during the
Belarus's forests were poorly managed and were logged
they were replanted. In 1991 the country produced 5.8
cubic meters of timber.
An ongoing problem facing agriculture is soil
because of a severe fertilizer shortage, and a serious
equipment. For many farmers, the answer to the latter, as
to the cost and shortage of fuel, is a return to
The main enduring problem affecting the agricultural
forestry sector is the Chornobyl' disaster of 1986.
absorbed the bulk of the radioactive fallout from the
because of weather conditions on the day of the disaster.
Longterm radiation affects 18 percent of Belarus's most
farmland and 20 percent of its forests. Despite the
accident, in 1993 Belarus was still a net exporter of
eggs, flour, and potatoes to other former Soviet
although its exports were routinely tested for radioactive
Data as of June 1995