In a bad year for grain, farmers in Uzbekistan are feeling pressure from all sides as they struggle to meet government-imposed quotas.
The grain harvest reached 8.2 million tons in 2015, a slight increase on the year before, and a similar amount was expected this year. Blights brought on by patches of spring and summer showers may well have put a dent in crop returns this year, however.
To ensure that the plan is fulfilled, officials are applying particularly strong pressure on farmers. Under an agreement between farmers and the government, grain growers are permitted to retain a certain amount of the crop for their own uses. Instead, local official are pressuring farmers into giving up even their own stores.
“Farmers that don’t meet the grain quota need to find the missing tons any way that they can. As a rule, they buy it from farmers with extra supplies or they pay [the government] 750,000 sum ($125) per ton. And that is while the government purchases grain for 500,000 ($84) per ton,” Muhammadasodyk, a farmer from the Ferghana Valley, told EurasiaNet.org.
Things are especially bad in arid southern regions. In the Kashkadarya region, the local government enlists policemen to confiscate grain grown on low-yield, rain-fed lands, which provokes particularly intense dismay and rage.
“All I have is 2 hectares (20,000 square meters) of land and the police brought a combine harvester to take away my crop. And while they’re doing it, they threaten and intimidate us. This is the harvest I am supposed to use to feed my family and cattle. And now are waiting for winter,” Murad, a farmer in the Yakkabagsky district of the Kashkadarya region, told EurasiaNet.org.
Even without official interference, arable farming makes for a tough, hardscrabble life in many parts of Uzbekistan
What is known as bogharic agriculture, which is practised in arid areas on non-irrigated and unfertilised land, typically yields around 700-800 kilograms of grain per 10,000 square meter. Richer, irrigated soil yields 4-5 tons. Levying large quantities of grain from farmers working on bogharic soil is particularly brutal treatment.
Of the 1.3 million hectares of land in Uzbekistan devoted to cultivating grain, around 300,000 hectares is on bogharic soil. This type of land is situated mostly in the southern regions, which are afflicted by chronic shortages of water. Irrigation water there is mainly sourced from rain and snowfall.
The cultivation of grain is a loss-making and thankless effort for Uzbek farmers. As stated above, a ton of grain sold to the government brings in around 500,000 sum ($84). A ton of cotton, meanwhile, sells for around 1.5 million sum ($250).
But grain is a political crop. Agriculture in Uzbekistan is still operated along command-administrative lines. As in Soviet times, once the plan is promulgated, failure by farmers to fulfil the quota can incur fines, fees and, in the most extreme scenario, confiscation of land.
The strictness of the regime stems from Uzbekistan’s aspiration to become grain independent. All the grain that is harvested remains inside the country, but despite all the authorities’ best efforts, that does not suffice. As a result, Uzbekistan is obliged to import grain and flour from Kazakhstan.