President Mikhail S. Gorbachev called on the Communist Party's top policy-making body Wednesday to take rapid steps to ease chronic Soviet food shortages, but indicated their total elimination would take years.
His comments came at a two-day meeting of the 300-member Central Committee.Before Gorbachev spoke, the official Tass news agency said, the Central Committee elected its senior leaders, including Gorbachev, to the nation's new parliament, the 2,250-seat Congress of People's Deputies.
Tass said Gorbachev on Wednesday "set the task, already in the nearest future, of easing the acuteness of the food problem, and in the first half of the '90s to guarantee the production of agricultural products in sufficient quantity and variety for stable food supply."
Tass did not immediately provide details, but Gorbachev's wording indicated the Kremlin leadership was resigned to continuing food shortages in the next several years.
Gorbachev called again for the "development of lease relations," and said one of the most important elements of his program for economic reform was "the restructuring of relations to socialist property."
Gorbachev has said he wants to lease state-owned fields to farmers, which he says will increase productivity because farmers can earn more.
In several recent appearances, Yegor K. Ligachev, who heads the party's Commission on Agriculture, has disagreed with Gorbachev on how to resolve the crisis. Ligachev has skipped lightly over leasing and instead emphasized collective farming - the system that has left Soviet consumers standing in line for meat and vegetables.
No one has proposed allowing farmers to own the land they till or breaking up the giant collective and state farms that have been the backbone of the Soviet agricultural system since the days of Josef Stalin.
Whatever the decision on leasing, the Central Committee was likely to agree on the need to ease the poverty and isolation of rural life.
It is also was expected to order the dismantling, at least partially, of an agricultural superministry created in 1985.
Along with the differences in emphasis in Gorbachev's and Ligachev's recent remarks, there has been evidence in recent weeks that the Kremlin leadership has found it difficult to agree on agricultural reform.
The Central Committee meeting on agriculture was originally scheduled for February, then postponed.
Last week, the 12-member Politburo's meeting covered agricultural reform, among other items, and ran for two days instead of the usual one.
The Central Committee, which last met in January, also has the power to change the membership of top party bodies like the Politburo and Secretariat.