Uzbekistan has embarked on a campaign to popularize the rearing of chickens as a way to combat poverty in rural areas.
The state broadcaster reported in its evening bulletin on January 29 that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has given orders for a large and high-tech bird farm to be built in the Khorezm region, some 800 kilometers west of the capital, Tashkent. The farm will churn out 51 million eggs and breed 1.5 chicks every year, the news program predicted.
This is the first firm result of an initiative announced by Mirziyoyev earlier in the month as he was touring the city of Nukus, in the capital of the economically depressed Karakalpakstan autonomous region. Chickens, Mirziyoyev predicted, will be the key to solving poverty in Uzbekistan.
“Every family in rural areas should keep at least 100 egg-laying hens. From that amount, you could get at least 50 eggs daily. Suppose a family keeps 10 eggs for itself and sells the other 40, then we would have no more poor people any more,” Mirziyoyev said in a speech broadcast on state television.
Not that officials in Uzbekistan like to talk about the poor. Instead they prefer a euphemistic term meaning “disadvantaged.” Minimum salaries are at present around 150,000 sum per month (around $45 at the official rate).
Mirziyoyev has urged civil servants and bankers to assist the chicken program in any way that they can by enabling credits to families that take up the challenge.
According to state-produced statistics published on January 1, Uzbekistan’s stock of fowl stood at almost 66 million heads and the country produced around 6 billion eggs last year.
A box of 10 factory-laid eggs can sell in Tashkent markets in the range of 4,000-6,000 sum ($1.20-$1.80 at official rates). Household-laid eggs, which are fresher and richer in calorific content, sell at 10,000 sum for a pack of 10. (Devout Muslims tend typically to spurn factory eggs, deeming them haram, and instead prefer to buy home-laid eggs).
At these rates, market prices in Uzbekistan are higher than, for instance, in neighboring Kazakhstan, where the same amount will sell for around one dollar. Although Uzbekistan produces more eggs than Kazakhstan overall, production per capita is lower, and that is what Mirziyoyev would like to see changed.
The chicken-rearing program also serves a nutrition agenda.
The state in Uzbekistan sets down no recommended levels for egg consumption, but going by the current figures available it follows that every Uzbek citizen currently consumes 180 eggs apiece every year. Figures from 2013 in Kazakhstan show that people there were eating 236 eggs yearly.
In the broader scheme of things, Uzbekistan also harbors ambitions of turning itself into an agricultural processing hub. In November, the government cancelled a 2005 presidential decree banning the import of live poultry, chicken meat and eggs. Businesses can now buy in not just poultry meat and egg-laying hens, but also technical equipment needed to revive the sector.
In view of the importance Mirziyoyev appears to be putting on his poultry plans, his decision to task deputy prime minister Rustam Azimov — once spoken of as a possible presidential contender — with overseeing the program need not necessarily be read as a demeaning demotion.
Then again, should the dream fall short of expectations, Azimov may end up with egg on his face and his neck on the chopping board.