MOSCOW, JULY 22 -- Soviet Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov has warned the Kremlin leadership that the country faces increased social tension because of stagnant food production and severe shortages of hard currency, the government newspaper Izvestia reported today.
Ryzhkov told the new presidential advisory council and the heads of the Soviet Union's 15 constituent republics that real food production this year had barely kept pace with population growth, that government grain acquisitions from Soviet farms were lagging behind 1989 and that there was not enough hard currency available to approach last year's purchase of 44 million metric tons on the foreign market.
"Unless we fundamentally change the situation, then the country is not in any condition -- I can say categorically -- to purchase that much grain," Ryzhkov said Friday in remarks disclosed by Izvestia today. Ryzhkov said that the real agricultural growth rate was almost nonexistent, despite expected improvements over last year's harvest of 211 million tons. "To expect any improvement in food supplies at such rates is impossible, and social tensions will grow further," he said.
While Ryzhkov apparently made no concrete proposal to deal with the immediate grain problem, his remarks indicated that the Soviet leadership may be feeling strong pressure for more drastic measures in the longer term. In commenting on a number of avenues of possible reform, he said a decision is expected soon on the transformation of a "considerable number" of state-run enterprises -- presumably including farming operations -- to shareholdings.
The bad news on the food front was the latest blow to President Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reform program, which has left many people impatient for tangible results more than five years after it was begun. Food supplies have dwindled steadily throughout the country, leaving store shelves bare and increasing discontent among all segments of society.
Ryzhkov's appraisal followed a listing of a number of factors adversely affecting farm production -- poor weather, technical failures and mismanagement -- and came on the heels of an even gloomier prediction by the agricultural daily Selskaya Zhizn. On Saturday, the newspaper forecast that the Soviet Union will have to acquire 85.3 million metric tons of grain, or there will be "disruption in the bread supply to the people."
So far this year, however, the government has been able to contract for only 76 million tons, despite sharp increases in procurement prices and incentives to Soviet producers, including promised payments in hard currency and access to scarce machinery and consumer goods.