The background to the crisis
During the summer of 1946 the Soviet Union suffered a serious drought, leading in the autumn to a failure of the grain harvest, which came to just 39.6 million tons. The last prewar harvest, in 1940, had yielded 95.5 million tons of grain. During the war, with all of Ukraine (one of the country's most important grain-growing regions) under German occupation and labor power on the collective farms in the non-occupied areas severely depleted because of the military call-up, harvests fell to calamitous levels: just 29.7 million tons of grain in 1942 and 29.4 million in 1943, which led to mass starvation among the civilian population in these years. The years 1944 and 1945 saw a modest recovery – 49.1 and 47.2 million tons respectively – but this was still only around half the 1940 level. As I discuss later in this chapter, there are alternatives to bread which in theory might have compensated for the loss of grain. The most important of these is potatoes, but wartime potato harvests also collapsed: from 75.9 million tons in 1940 to just 23.8 million tons in 1942, 34.9 million tons in 1943, 54.9 million tons in 1944, and 58.1 million tons in 1945. Thus when the war ended the two staple foods that provided the overwhelming bulk of the population's calories and protein were in perilously short supply.