In 1953, the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, began the Virgin Lands campaign to cultivate the steppe lands, mainly in northern Kazakhstan, for grain production. This area was chosen because it had higher rainfall and better soil than neighbouring regions, as well as a low population. The campaign was successful with a record-breaking harvest in 1958. By 1960, 42 million hectares of the Virgin Lands had been ploughed, with 25 million of these in Kazakhstan. However, in the early 1960s productivity was in decline. Reliance on single crop cultivation had reduced the fertility of the soil and created erosion. There was also a problem recruiting further workers because the conditions were tough, with substandard living conditions and hard labour. Young Communist League workers were recruited, but their lack of experience meant that mistakes were made; for example grain storage methods were inadequate, and much of the surplus rotted.
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