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Czechoslovakia: Agriculture
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Economic Policy and Performance > Agriculture

AGRICULTURE


Even before World War II, industrialization in Czechoslovakia had substantially reduced the relative importance of agriculture in the economy. Before the KSC gained control of the government, Czechoslovak agriculture consisted primarily of small to mid-size family farms with an efficiency on a par with most of Europe. The situation did not change until 1949, when the KSC initiated a policy of collectivization. The pace of collectivization was rather gradual until the late 1950s and was generally more thorough in the Czech lands than in Slovakia. Collectivization was essentially completed by 1960. Large numbers of farmers, particularly the young, left agriculture for more attractive industrial jobs. In the 1960s, the active farm population consisted largely of women and older men.

Under communist rule, agriculture received much less attention and investment funding than industry. Partly because of this fact, agricultural output grew slowly, not regaining prewar levels of production until the 1960s. Falling productivity and the need to increase farm output to reduce agricultural imports eventually drew official attention to agriculture. A principal government goal was to encourage large-scale farming that could benefit from modern technologies and powerful farm equipment. Proceeding slowly during the 1980s, consolidation of farms accelerated in the 1970s. Most of the larger cooperatives encompassed several villages and raised a variety of crops and livestock. In the 1960s, in an effort to increase farm incomes, the government raised the prices of farm products; during the previous decade, by contrast, prices for farm produce had been kept low, partly to extract workers and investment funds for the expansion of industry. By the early 1970s, the average farm income reportedly had reached parity with that of urban white- collar workers. The farm labor force of the 1980s was relatively young (45 percent was under 40 years of age in 1980) and well educated. The performance of the agricultural sector improved markedly during the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. In 1960 the official index of gross agricultural output (in constant 1980 prices) had stood at 96, compared with 100 in 1936. In 1970 the index reached 116.8, and by 1980 it had increased to 143. Between 1981 and 1985, according to official sources, total agricultural production increased by 9.8 percent over the 1980 level.

The total land area of postwar Czechoslovakia is nearly 12.8 million hectares, of which almost 6.8 million hectares are considered agricultural land. The remaining land is classified as nonagricultural and includes 4.5 million hectares of forests. In the mid-1980s, agricultural activity was spread throughout the country. Urbanization and industrialization had slowly but steadily reduced the amount of agricultural land; it declined by over 600,000 hectares between 1948 and the late 1970s. In 1984 irrigation facilities existed for over 322,000 hectares, a little over 6 percent of the arable land. In addition, as of 1980 the country had 1.3 million hectares of drained area, constituting about 18 percent of all agricultural land. Extensive additional irrigation and drainage had high priority in agricultural planning, despite the heavy costs of these procedures, because there was very little new land that could be brought under cultivation less expensively. The small amount of irrigated land made crop production heavily dependent on weather conditions.

In 1985 some 95 percent of the country's agricultural land was in the socialist sector. The basic unit of production in the mid-1980s was the "unified agricultural cooperative," or farmers' collective. Collective farms had increased in area by 6.5 times since 1950. In 1985 there were 1,677 collectives with 997,798 members. In 1985 there were 226 state farms, which were officially owned and operated by the government and which employed 166,432 workers. In 1985 collective farms held about 4.3 million hectares (plus about 87,000 hectares in private plots), and state farms held 2.1 million hectares. Members of collective farms were permitted to cultivate personal plots of one-half hectare or less and to maintain some livestock. Such personal plots had reached a peak of popularity in the early 1960s, when they had accounted for 355,000 hectares. By 1975 their area had decreased to 171,000 hectares. Production from personal plots was minor and served primarily as a food source for the cultivator. Private farmers owned only 404,000 hectares, consisting mainly of small farms in the hill country of Slovakia. By 1980 there were only 150,000 such small farms operating. In 1982, however, the government introduced measures to encourage private small-scale animal breeding and fruit and vegetable cultivation. Planning authorities did not expect that this activity would be the main source of income for small farmers, and they limited the land used for this purpose primarily to that reclaimed from currently unused, somewhat marginal agricultural land, estimated at 100,000 hectares in 1984. The government hoped, however, that a large proportion of demand for fruit and green vegetables, as well as for meat, would be satisfied in this way. In 1984, according to official reports, small-scale private producers accounted for about 10 percent of meat production, 38 percent of vegetable production, and 64 percent of fruit production. A secondary purpose of the government measures -- land reclamation -- was a matter of considerable urgency because of the decline in agricultural land that took place in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Government policy encouraged cooperation and specialization among the various agricultural units. Both informal and formal arrangements existed. Mutual aid in terms of machinery or labor for particular tasks had long been practiced among neighboring farms, and this continued under the collectivized farming system. More formal arrangements took shape in the 1960s and expanded in the 1970s. Many of these took the form of "joint agricultural enterprises," entities that somewhat resembled stock companies. Some cooperative organizations specialized in such activities as fattening of hogs or cattle, production of eggs or drying and production of feed mixtures. Others offered agrochemical, construction, land improvement, or marketing services. A large number engaged in multiple activities.

Management of most large farms is organized hierarchically on three levels. On large cooperative farms, an assembly of members or their elected representatives is legally responsible for farm operation, although a committee and its chairman carry out daily management of operation. In practice, the assembly functions largely to ratify decisions already made by the chairman. As cooperative farms have increased in size, the authority of the assembly of members has declined. "Boards of economic management," consisting of the chairman and a staff of experts on various operations, have taken over the most important management functions. The second echelon of management in large cooperatives or state farms has responsibility for smaller operations in either a specific area or a particular branch of production. The third level of management organizes the labor force performing the farm work, such as the field brigades. The chairman of a cooperative or the director of a state farm holds most of the power in the organization, and the subordinate levels are severely restricted in their decision making.

Crop cultivation has slowly become less important in the gross output of the agricultural sector. Cropping and livestock were almost equal branches in 1960, but by 1985 crops accounted for only 43 percent of gross agricultural output compared with 57 percent for livestock products. Main crop products in the 1980s were wheat, barley, potatoes, sugar beets, rye, and hops (an important export crop). Sugar, derived from sugar beet production, is both a significant export crop (especially to hard currency areas) and an important item of domestic consumption. Fruit and vegetable acreage accounted for only a small part of the cultivated area. Since the 1950s, the supply of livestock has gradually increased because of government encouragement. Producers have been urged to meet the demand for meat that accompanied the rise in income levels of the population. After the collectivization of agriculture, raising livestock increasingly became a large-scale operation, usually undertaken in conjunction with cropping. The major constraint to livestock expansion has been a shortage of fodder and feed mixtures, although government pricing policies and the labor demands of animal husbandry have also tended to deter efforts. During the 1970s, progress was made in expanding the supplies of fodder and feed mixtures and the country's processing capacity. However, it remained necessary to supplement the supply of feed and fodder through imports, which became increasingly burdensome because they came from noncommunist countries and thus required payment in convertible currencies.

The basic aim of agricultural policy in the mid-1980s, with regard to both crop and livestock production, was self- sufficiency. Record harvests in 1984 and 1985 made it possible virtually to halt grain imports, which had amounted to about 500,000 tons per year. During the Seventh Five-Year Plan, the government was able to reduce imports of feed grains to one-third the level of the previous five-year plan without causing a reduction in per capita meat consumption, an achievement suggesting that the efficiency of animal husbandry had improved. Performance in the agricultural sector as a whole remained uneven in the 1980s, however. Although some outstanding farms were obtaining excellent grain yields, the uneven quality of farm management contributed to large discrepancies in performance between farms.

Data as of August 1987




Last Updated: August 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Czechoslovakia was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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