AGRICULTURE IN UZBEKISTAN

AGRICULTURE IN UZBEKISTAN

Mike Edwards wrote in National Geographic, “Agriculture is Uzbekistan's biggest employer, and cotton is king, as it was in Soviet days, when irrigation canals were stitched across the arid landscape and ground-water became polluted with agrochemicals. State farms, also Soviet relics, have not been abolished, and the government still tells farmers what to plant: cotton. The system enriches the state at the expense of the peasants, for the crop must be sold to the state at a fraction of its value. [Source: Mike Edwards, National Geographic, February 2002]

Land use: agricultural land: 62.6 percent; arable land 10.1 percent; permanent crops 0.8; percent; permanent pasture 51.7 percent; forest: 7.7 percent; other: 29.7 percent (2011 est.). Irrigated land: 41,980 square kilometers (2005); Total renewable water resources: 48.87 cubic kilometers (2011). Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural) total: 56 cubic kilometers a year(7 percent/3 percent/90 percent); per capita: 2,113 cubic meters a year (2005). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Agriculture and industries processing agricultural products (primarily those related to cotton and foods) have consistently contributed about 35 percent of Uzbekistan's gross domestic product. However, expansion of the sector has been hindered by state control of agricultural markets, equipment shortages, and the ban on private land ownership. Privately worked plots contribute an estimated 75 percent of non-wheat food output. **

Uzbekistan is the world's fourth-largest producer and second-largest exporter of cotton, which in 2005 accounted for approximately 20 percent of the country's exports after reaching 39 percent in the late 1990s. In recent years, Uzbekistan has switched some farmland from cotton to grains (mainly rice and wheat) in an effort to reduce food imports. Officially reported wheat harvests have increased every year since 1998, while the rice harvest decreased substantially in 2005. Other significant agricultural products are silk, fruits and vegetables, cow’s milk, and beef. Virtually all agriculture requires intensive irrigation. Cattle, goats, and sheep are the most frequently raised livestock. **

Under the Soviet system, agricultural land was held by the state in the form of collective and state farms. Farmers were allowed cultivate small private farm plots. These accounted for a disproportionate share of agricultural production—up to 30 percent of the total agricultural output in some places.

Uzbekistan has the advantages of a warm climate, a long growing season, and plentiful sources of water for irrigation. In the Soviet period, those conditions offered high and reliable yields of crops with specialized requirements. Soviet agricultural policy applied Uzbekistan's favorable conditions mainly to cotton cultivation. As Uzbekistan became a net exporter of cotton and a narrow range of other agricultural products, however, it required large-scale imports of grain and other foods that were not grown in sufficient quantities in domestic fields. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

See Separate Article COTTON, HISTORY, AGRICULTURE AND PRODUCTION factsanddetails.com

Organization and Structure of Agriculture in Uzbekistan

Under the Soviet system, agricultural land was held by the state in the form of collective and state farms. Farmers were allowed cultivate small private farm plots. These accounted for a disproportionate share of agricultural production—up to 30 percent of the total agricultural output in some places.

In the last decades of Soviet rule, the private agricultural sector produced about 25 percent of total farm output almost exclusively on the small private plots of collective and state farmers and nonagricultural households (the maximum private landholding was one-half hectare). In the early 1990s, Uzbekistan's agriculture still was dominated by collective and state farms, of which 2,108 were in operation in 1991. Because of this domination, average farm size was more than 24,000 hectares, and the average number of workers per farm was more than 1,100 in 1990. More than 99 percent of the value of agricultural production comes from irrigated land. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Uzbekistan's economy depends heavily on agricultural production. As late as 1992, roughly 40 percent of its net material product (NMP) was in agriculture, although only about 10 percent of the country's land area was cultivated. Cotton accounts for 40 percent of the gross value of agricultural production.

Problems with Uzbekistan’s Agriculture

With such a small percentage of land available for farming, the single-minded development of irrigated agriculture, without regard to consumption of water or other natural resources, has had adverse effects such as heavy salinization, erosion, and waterlogging of agricultural soils, which inevitably have limited the land's productivity. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

According to the Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Resources, for example, after expansion of agricultural land under irrigation at a rate of more than 2 percent per year between 1965 and 1986, conditions attributed to poor water management had caused more than 3.4 million hectares to be taken out of production in the Aral Sea Basin alone. According to other reports, about 44 percent of the irrigated land in Uzbekistan today is strongly salinated. The regions of Uzbekistan most seriously affected by salinization are the provinces of Syrdariya, Bukhara, Khorazm, and Jizzakh and the Karakalpakstan Republic . Throughout the 1980s, agricultural investments rose steadily, but net losses rose at an even faster rate. *

See Environment and Aral Sea

Irrigation in Uzbekistan Agriculture

Water from an system of canals and heavy does of fertilizers produce crops in regions of Uzbekistan that is otherwise too hot, dry and infertile to support agriculture. The irrigation system is very inefficient. Much of the water for the Amu Dayra (a river) lost to the desert. Uzbekistan has converted much of its cultivated land from cotton to grain production. In many cases this has created a demand for even more water.

Irrigated land: 41,980 square kilometers (2005); Total renewable water resources: 48.87 cubic kilometers (2011). Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural) total: 56 cubic kilometers a year(7 percent/3 percent/90 percent); per capita: 2,113 cubic meters a year (2005). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Many of Uzbekistan’s irrigation canals were built in the Soviet era. In many parts of Uzbekistan much of agriculture is done with irrigation. Locals say that life itself would be possible without irrigation. The main crop is cotton produced in large collectives and state farms. Melons, sorghum, rice, wheat, alfalfa, grapes, apricots, apples, pears, potatoes and vegetables are also grown.

Water for irrigation can come from wells, rivers, canals, lakes, ponds and reservoirs. Often dams are built to supply water for irrigation. Water used in irrigation often times originates from sources miles away. The water often flows from the source in a single canal which in turn divides into smaller canals that lead to the fields There may be thousands of fields, each averaging from a few acres to many dozen acres in size, or huge swaths of agricultural land.

Problems with Irrigation

Irrigation with canals is very inefficient. Lots of water is lost to evaporation, run offs and absorption into the soil before it reaches crops. Governments are often to blame for these practices because they subsidize water so heavily that farmers have little incentive to save it

Poorly-drained irrigated land leaves behind salt deposits as water evaporates. In many places, fields that once grew bountiful crops of grains are now encrusted in salt. More than a quarter of the world's irrigated land has become so salty that many crops will no longer grow there. To make the land productive again the fields have to be flooded four times to clear away the salt.

Irrigation also causes large amounts of salts, fertilizers and pesticides to be flushed into rivers and streams. Short supplies of water can result in increased in disease as untreated sewage water is used in irrigation.

The drilling of wells for irrigation, farming and animal herding can trigger an unhealthy cycle. Drilling wells causes the water table to drop. After a while the water may become too salty for crops and animals or too expensive to pump resulting in the sinking of more wells, which causes the water table to drop further.

Aral Sea and Irrigation

The main culprit behind the drying up of the Aral Sea has been irrigation projects in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and to a lesser degree Kazakhstan used mainly used to nourish millions of acres of cotton fields (90 percent of the former Soviet Union's production). The water from these projects was supplied by Central Asia's two largest rivers—the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which have traditionally flowed into the Aral Sea, supplying it with the vast majority of its water.

As part of their massive cotton-growing, irrigation scheme, the Soviets built 32,000 kilometers of canals, 45 dams and more than 80 reservoirs to irrigate more than 4 million hectares of new crops. An area of desert and dry steppes was turned into one of the largest cotton-growing areas in the world. The waters of the Amu river began to flow into a canal, the world's longest, in 1956. At first there were no problems. Cotton production increasedd on around 50,000 square kilometers of newly irrigated land and the Aral Sea seemed unaffected.

In the 1960s the delicate equilibrium between the inflow of water and evaporation from the sea was thrown out of kilter. More land was brought under cultivation and the new irrigation was wasteful and inefficient. Water drained from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya doubled but cotton production only increased by 20 percent.

Much of the water was lost due to waste. The canals were not lined or covered. Much of the water evaporated or drained into the soil before it reached the crops. What is even worse is that cotton-growing policy was launched about the same time synthetic fibers began hitting world markets. Cotton production never brought in as much money as it was supposed to most of it ended in Moscow not Central Asia.

In some places such as around the village Dzhalagash in Kazakhstan rice was grown in areas that receives only 15 centimeters of rain a year. More than 2.8 billion liters of water—enough to fill 13,000 Olympic-size swimming pools—was necessary to supply water for 100 hectares of rice paddies. The situation exist because the water was ludicrously cheap—only 65 center per swimming pool. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan each produced almost 65,000 hectares of rice.

The Kara-kum Canal is the world's longest irrigation canal. It stretches 1,350 kilometers (745 miles) from Haun-Khan to Ashkhabad and brings water from the Amu-Darya to the inhabited areas in southern Turkmenistan. Draining the Amu-Darya, it runs most of the length of Turkmenistan and is used to supply water for cotton farms. It has contributed to large cotton harvests and the shrinking of the Aral Sea. The canal leaks a lot of the water it carries and is badly in need of reconstruction. From the air its looks like a thin ribbon fringed by kilometers-wide bands of weeds. The Turkmenistan government admits that 28 percent of the water disappears before it reaches it destination. Scientist think the figure is close to 60 percent.

Consequences of Irrigation on the Aral Sea

While irrigation doubled cotton production it drained 55 million cubic kilometers of water a year, claiming three quarters of the flow of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. With so much water diverted the rivers were only trickles when they arrived at the Aral Sea. Unable to counteract evaporation the lake has simply been getting smaller and smaller.

Soviet authorities knew what was going on but doing nothing to stop pit. When they designed the irrigation scheme they expected the lake to dry up. In 1987, a Soviet planner said, "Let the Aral Sea die beautiful death."

Initially the irrigation boosted agricultural productivity. But later over-watering and leaks left some farmland to salty to support crops and the use and reuse of water made the water saltier and loaded it with pesticides and sewage. By some estimates irrigation of the Aral Sea has caused agricultural productivity in Central Asia to decline by one quarter. Yet demand for water exceed the flow of the two rivers that flow into the Aral Sea by more than 25 percent.

The inefficient use of water now means that as the Aral Sea shrinks so to does the land used by farmers. One farmer who talked to the New York Times said that his entire crop — grown on 32 hectares of state-owned farmland that he oversaw — was lost in 2000 because of a lack of water. In 2001 he grew only four hectares of cotton. In 2002 he raised six hectares of cotton and sunflowers.

Soviet-Style Agriculture in Uzbekistan

Under the Soviet system, agricultural land was held by the state in the form of collective and state farms. Farmers were allowed cultivate small private farm plots. These accounted for a disproportionate share of agricultural production—up to 30 percent of the total agricultural output in some places.

Under the Soviets, Uzbekistan grew into one of the world's largest exporters of cotton. Collective agriculture had disastrous effect on Uzbekistan. Overall agricultural productivity was greatly diminished. Most of the profits from the cotton production flowed to Moscow while the people Uzbekistan became poorer. The over use of fertilizers, defoliants and irrigation wrecked the soil and so much water was drained from the Amu River the Aral Sea on the northwestern side of Uzbekistan shrunk to two thirds its former size.

Agriculture remains Uzbekistan's largest employer. State farms continue to exist and the government continues to tell people what to grow, namely cotton. The system enriches the state but hurts peasants and workers who have to sell their crops for only a portion of the world price.

Collectives are also very much alive in Uzbekistan. Many families remain parts of collectives to take advantage of the education opportunities the collective offers their children. Many independent farmers rent land from collectives.

Some farmers continue to farm even though their crop yields are low because there is no other way for them to make a living. Many people grow apples, pears, apricots, grapes, almonds, chickpeas and vegetables in their courtyard gardens. Technically they are free to gro what they want but in reality the government tells them what to produce and how much to sell it for. One farmer who dared to sell apples on the open market was sentenced to 10 years in jail and his neighbors cut down all of his trees.

Crops in Uzbekistan

Major crops: cotton, rice, wheat, rye, fruit. Major crops for domestic consumption: wheat, rice, fruit. Major crops for export: cotton. Uzbekistan produces more than one million tons of fruits and vegetables. The world's first pears, apples and apricots evolved from wild plants found in Central Asia.

In recent years, Uzbekistan has switched some farmland from cotton to grains (mainly rice and wheat) in an effort to reduce food imports. Officially reported wheat harvests have increased every year since 1998, while the rice harvest decreased substantially in 2005. Other significant agricultural products are silk, fruits and vegetables, cow’s milk, and beef. Virtually all agriculture requires intensive irrigation. Cattle, goats, and sheep are the most frequently raised livestock. [Source: Library of Congress, 2007]

The world's first pears, apples and apricots evolved from wild plants found in Central Asia. Melons are very popular in Central Asia. They are sweet and delicious and are full of water and act as natural canteens. Melons are often served as a dessert or snack with tea. Markets are often filled with huge piles of them. Melons are often given as a gift and a gesture of welcome and farewell.

In light of increasing water shortages in Central Asia and the end of the Soviet distribution system that guaranteed food imports, government leaders have aimed to reduce cotton cultivation in favor of grain and other food plants to feed an increasingly impoverished population. In fact, between 1987 and 1991 land planted to cotton decreased by 16 percent, mainly in favor of grains and fruits and vegetables. But Uzbekistan's short-term needs for hard currency make dramatic declines in cotton cultivation unrealistic. Likewise, Uzbekistan's entire existing agricultural infrastructure--irrigation systems, configuration of fields, allocation and type of farm machinery, and other characteristics--is geared toward cotton production; shifting to other crops would require a massive overhaul of the agricultural system and a risk that policy makers have not wished to take in the early years of independence. Under these circumstances, continued commitment to cotton is seen as a good base for longer-term development and diversification. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1991 Uzbekistan's main agricultural products, aside from cotton, were grains (primarily wheat, oats, corn, barley, and rice), fodder crops, and fruits and vegetables (primarily potatoes, tomatoes, grapes, and apples). That year 41 percent of cultivated land was devoted to cotton, 32 percent to grains, 11 percent to fruits, 4 percent to vegetables, and 12 percent to other crops. In the early 1990s, Uzbekistan produced the largest volume of fruits and vegetables among the nations of the former Soviet Union. Because Uzbekistan's yield per hectare of noncotton crops is consistently below that for other countries with similar growing conditions, experts believe that productivity can be improved significantly.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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