Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbekistan: Farm Decree Greeted with Suspicion

There is widespread cynicism over a new state decree that would give farmers full control over their operations.
By Olga Borisova

Uzbek president Islam Karimov intends to hand state control of what the republic's farms produce and sell over to the farmers themselves.


However, the majority of farmers have greeted the news with suspicion, after more than a year of clashes and legal action which saw the state close many firms down for disobeying planting orders.


While most collective farms became private following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, their operations were still controlled by the authorities.


However, this arrangement, known as "command administrative control", has not been a successful one, and the government has been forced to admit that changes are necessary.


Agriculture is Uzbekistan's most important industry, accounting for the majority of its earnings, and employing around 60 per cent of its workforce.


Karimov said that his decree, which was issued at the end of March, "will effectively allow us to protect the interests of the most important figure in the village - the grower of produce, the farmer".


The republic's agriculture and water ministry head, Sokhibjon Akromov, told IWPR, "There will not be state orders for farmers anymore, and they will now become full owners of their land."


Analysts believe that the poor performance of the agricultural sector has forced Karimov's hand. Last year's cotton harvest, which the authorities rely on for half of the republic's income, fell far short of expectations, and other areas of the industry also doing badly.


Agricultural reforms were also one of the conditions laid down in the January 2002 agreement between the republic and the International Monetary Fund, IMF.


In August of that year, the Uzbek government allowed farmers to determine the planting of half their crops. At harvest time, they were then required to sell a quarter to the state at regulated prices, and allowed to sell the remaining amount at its market value.


But in reality, these conditions were not fulfilled. The authorities continued to control what was planted in every region, and farmers became increasingly angry when they were then obliged to sell their harvests to the state at very low prices.


There were further conflicts when some farmers in the Jizak region decided to plant other crops instead of cotton. The regional administrations promptly told them to replant their fields, and the Uzbekistan Agricultural Court was then swamped by lawsuits from the authorities seeking to close farms down. A total of 350 operations were shut down in this manner.


Further rights violations followed. "Rebel" farmers claimed they were then issued with arid, salt-poisoned land and were then expected to cultivate it with reduced water limits.


The authorities now claim that abolishing the command-administrative structure will lead to the end of such disorder.


At the same time, they also intend to set up a new civil service structure to develop more productive methods and give advice and support to farmers. "In the past, farmers' rights were not very well protected," admitted Akromov.


But the farmers themselves no longer trust the authorities, taking the view that if previous decrees did not improve their situation, this new one is also unlikely to make a difference.


Samarkand human rights activist Kamiljon Ashurov said that it was not difficult to understand the farmers' cynicism, as each new "progressive" order issued by the state had resulted in further persecution.


Independent analyst Mirzo Golib believes that the state will not give up its power over the farmers quite as easily as the new decree might suggest.


He told IWPR that state structures are still in complete control of all trade relations connected with cotton production, and do not allow any legal input or interference.


And, as heads of farms say, the majority of farms in Uzbekistan were initially allowed to organise themselves on condition that they grow grain or cotton - crops that bring in hard currency for the authorities.


Golib believes that the state monopoly will continue until farmers put up a concerted political fight for their rights - something which, as of now, does not appear to be happening.


Olga Borisova and Malik Mansur are independent journalists in Tashkent.