Communist Party leaders Thursday rallied around President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's plan to give peasants control of the land they farm and the crops they plant in a drive to overcome chronic food shortages, Tass said.
Speakers urged the 300-member Central Committee to approve the radical reform plan, which Gorbachev said would end decades of "power and pressure methods" that have brought disaster to the Soviet countryside, according to the official news agency.In a nearly two-hour speech on Wednesday, Gorbachev painted a bleak picture of Soviet agriculture, with chemically despoiled land, investments gone sour and the deliberate destruction of traditional systems. The situation is so bad that it will be years before the country can feed itself, he said.
The Central Committee was expected to approve the policy Thursday, although conservatives such as agriculture chief Yegor K. Ligachev have not been enthusiastic about leasing collective farm land to families and groups.
Gorbachev's detailed report on years of failed reforms made it clear that he believes nothing less than radical change will free Soviets from rationing of meat and cheese now found in many cities.
His proposal to abolish a government superagency created in 1985 to oversee the country's farm sector was a tacit acknowledgement of the failure of even his early attempts to revitalize agriculture.
Essentially, Gorbachev's plan would give farmers freedom to choose their own crops, equipment and markets. Prices would be adjusted and eventually nearly decontrolled.
A draft law on leasing was presented to the party, and Gorbachev said it could be decreed by the government Presidium. That implied he would not wait for installation of the nation's new parliament, which is expected in May.
It will take time, however, to replace the current system with one allowing farmers to choose and pay for their own seed, equipment and fertilizer.
Leasing experiments have been going on for a year, but approval of the plan would make leasing standard rather than the exception.
Gorbachev called food shortages "our society's biggest wound." Meat, sugar and many other foodstuffs must be rationed in numerous Soviet regions.
The Central Committee began a two-day meeting Wednesday largely devoted to agricultural reform, seeking ways to increase the food supply and improve dreary rural life.
When Josef Stalin forced agricultural collectivization in the 1930s on a populace that was 80 percent agrarian, millions of peasants were deported to Siberia and other remote regions or fled to cities. Catastrophic famine ensued.
Ever since, farmers working for state-owned farms have generally delivered their yields to market at fixed prices to meet quotas set by the state bureaucracy.