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Kazak Peasants Fear Land Reform

Kazak farmers believe they have little to gain from the government's proposed privatisation of agricultural land.

A proposed law on the privatisation of agricultural land in Kazakstan is meeting huge resistance from rural dwellers.

They fear that once land goes on sale, most of it will pass to a tiny group of rich landowners - which would do little to address the problems of low agricultural productivity or rural poverty.

Much of the Kazak parliament is opposed to the proposed law. Only the Agrarian Party, comprising managers of former co-operative farms and private grain producers, are actively supporting the legislation.

Some parliamentary deputies are so concerned over the potential impact of privatisation, that they've called for it to be delayed for at least thirty years. Even government ministers have their doubts. Deputy Agricultural Minister, Tleukhan Nurkianov, conceded that, "society isn't ready for land ownership."

At present, peasants are allocated 'rights' to plots of land. Plots range in size from one to four hectares per person. They can sell them, give them away or rent them out. But many peasants have been waiting up to 50 years for their land shares. Some do not even know where their allotments are. Too often they are only offered arid, salty land while the fertile fields are reserved for others.

Nurkianov insists that 2.3 million portions of land have been allocated through the current land rights system. "Unused land has been placed in a special land fund for those who wish to farm. They send an application to the governor of the region, who then decides whether they will be granted a right of use."

And therein lies a major scam, according to parliamentary deputy, Serik Abdrakhmanov. He claims that officials from the regional and district authorities abuse their land distribution powers by granting plots to friends and family members. "All fertile land is grabbed by the authorities. Everything is carved up," he said.

There's evidence that directors of former collective farms are already earmarking land for themselves and their families or buying up smallholdings on the cheap.

Yet even those who oppose the proposed law accept that eventually land will have to be privatised. Experience elsewhere has shown that only privatisation of land ensures that it flourishes. Much agricultural land in Kazakstan is currently overgrown with weeds or salted up because no one owns it.

Kazaks are not immune to the attractions of owning their own allotments, but the proposed law would most likely benefit only a tiny circle of people. This frightens simple village folk - of all nationalities.

The fear is that even if they are able to purchase their own land, they will struggle to maintain it.

The trouble is that in many villages it is not viable to keep even a small plot of land. With no access to agricultural technology or fertilizers, peasants are forced to sell out to rich directors or work for them as hired hands. The state gives no assistance to smallholders and without any forms of credit, they are pressured into handing over their entire harvest to middlemen who then sell it on at three times the price.

It is essential then that the correct legislative and economic conditions are created in Kazakstan for those who wish to own their own plot of land and to work it without the fear that someone will take it away. Only when there is social justice and safeguards in Kazakstan will wider society support the privatisation.

Nelya Sadykova is a regular IWPR contributor.

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