BOSTON — UNITED States nonprofit organizations, universities, and some businesses are pitching in to help the former Soviet Union reform its troubled agricultural system as it moves toward a market economy.
Western humanitarian aid provided short-term solutions to food shortages this past winter, but there is a great need for US technical assistance, training, and equipment, according to US experts and officials of the former Soviet republics.
At a recent seminar sponsored by the Geonomics Institute of Middlebury, Vt., agricultural leaders from the US and the republics discussed Western responses to Soviet food shortages.
"I hope we will be able to solve our [problems] with the help of our American colleagues, with the help of American businesses. I don't mean humanitarian aid. We are more interested in your technology, your know-how," said Urazildy Baimuratov, chairman of the Subcommittee for Economic Reform for the republic of Kazakhstan.
The US government will probably provide limited technical assistance to Soviet farmers, amounting to no more than $100 million by year's end, according to a Western agricultural expert who asked not to be named. And while US private industry has provided some technical assistance, most has come from nonprofit organizations and universities, US experts say.
Soviet farms, considered inefficient and outdated, need as much Western assistance as possible, the experts say. The old government-controlled agricultural system, with farms run by collectives, is decentralizing its authority, transferring more power to an increasing number of individual farmers. These private farms and the old cooperatives face severe problems in getting their output intact to market as well as hyperinflation. Meanwhile, the changing system is supported by only a patchwork of economic reforms and new privatization laws.
The republics need help in making this transition, even if the US government can't step in with a full-fledged aid program, agricultural specialists say.
ALTHOUGH US assistance is "not a huge program dollar wise, it can have a tremendous impact," says Earl Teeter, who works with international programs of the Extension Service of the US Department of Agriculture. "Folks in the [former] Soviet Union already have education and training, so they can maximize utilization of the technical assistance that we provide to them."
John Field, director of international development for the Holstein Association, says he is working with the Russian minister of agriculture on a dairy farming initiative similar to one his organization developed for Hungary starting in 1974.
In the 10-year program, the Holstein Association helped Hungary modernize its dairy industry, cutting the national herd size in half while increasing milk production by 83 percent. The organization is hoping to launch a similar program for the former Soviet Union. It would involve exporting US cattle, training farmers, and the construction of new farm facilities, Mr. Field says. "There's not just one single problem that needs to be fixed. It's a wide array of problems, starting from the farm, and working
all the way to the consumer."
Volunteer organizations are also actively involved. One group, Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance, has sent 18 highly skilled agricultural professionals to help farmers in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Armenia. These VOCA volunteers help private farmers and private-farm associations in marketing, food processing, and packaging.
"The objective is to help people help themselves. We don't go in and do it for them," says Joan Leavitt, vice president of VOCA.
State universities have also done extensive agricultural work in the former Soviet states.
Iowa State University, for example, has an education, research, and commercial exchange program. It has set up demonstration farms in two republics. The farms will take in 100 Russians and Ukrainians each week this summer to learn about US agricultural methods. The idea is not only to help provide technological assistance, but also to help American businesses develop a market for their products.
Last month, Iowa businesses sent $350,000 worth of seeds, equipment, and supplies for the demonstration farms.