The condition of agriculture in Kyrgyzstan is determined by the
state's continuing control of production, marketing, and prices,
as well as by the republic-wide specialization mandated by the
former Soviet Union to promote interdependence among the republics.
Most agricultural production continues to occur in the state farm
and collective farm systems, which are slowly being privatized.
In the early post-Soviet years, government policy encouraged self-sufficiency
in cereal grains to provide food security. Maintaining such self-sufficiency,
however, has entailed continued government regulation such as
compulsory marketing, which in turn has discouraged the development
of diversified farm enterprise. The main agricultural regions
are in the Fergana Valley (Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces), in the
northern Chu and Talas valleys, and in the Ysyk-Köl basin in the
northeast. In the early 1990s, income declined steadily in both
state-run and privatized agricultural enterprises.
Kyrgyzstan has about 1.4 million hectares of arable land, which
is only about 7 percent of the nation's total area. More than
70 percent of the arable area depends on irrigation for its productivity.
In the Soviet period, only about 4 percent of agricultural land
was owned privately, although private plots contributed a much
higher percentage of overall output, especially in fruits and
vegetables. In 1994 only an additional 6 percent of agricultural
land had passed to some form of private ownership. The privatization
of land was a difficult issue that was contested between President
Akayev and more conservative government officials. The latter
reflected the Soviet-era view that land should be common property
protected and disposed of only by the state. More immediately,
these officials represented the interests of state farm administrators,
whose enterprises suffered greatly from post-Soviet economic shocks
and redistribution of resources.
In 1992 and 1993, the land redistribution program also was hindered
by poor cooperation between the national and local governments
and by lack of clarity in the program outline. Nevertheless, by
early 1993 some 165 of the 470 existing state and collective farms
had been reorganized or privatized into about 17,000 peasant enterprises,
cooperatives, or peasant associations. However, the state retained
control over vital agricultural inputs and market distribution
channels, meaning that private land users often lacked material
support and that price controls limited the profitability of private
farms. The privatization program was halted in early 1993, and
a more comprehensive reform program was developed. In early 1995,
the government offered debt relief to state and collective farms
that expedited the availability of land to private farmers.
According to privatization law, state agricultural assets are
distributed according to a share system in which all citizens
have the right to a garden plot, but only individuals in the rural
population have the right to occupy land and other agricultural
assets formerly owned by state and collective farms. Recipients
of shares can maintain the property as part of the collective,
transfer it to a cooperative, or establish an individual farm.
In the early 1990s, the former alternative was much more popular
because of the perception that larger units offered greater security
in a time of financial uncertainty. Private ownership of land
remained illegal in 1995, but use rights are guaranteed for forty-nine
years, and use rights can be bought, sold, and used as collateral
for loans. In 1994 a new decree on land reform expanded and clarified
the legal basis for the use and exchange of land and improved
the administration of land privatization, which is the responsibility
of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
In the post-Soviet years, Kyrgyzstan has continued to emphasize
production of raw materials for industrial processing, a role
assigned to the republic in the Soviet system. An estimated 62
percent of the population is rural (see Population, this ch.).
The chief crops are fodder crops, wheat, barley, and cotton. Other
agricultural products are sugar beets, tobacco, fruit, vegetables,
and silk (see table 13, Appendix). In 1994 the largest crop harvests
were of wheat (611,000 tons), barley (300,000 tons), potatoes
(288,000 tons), and tomatoes (160,000 tons).
The chief agricultural use of land is pasturage for livestock,
mainly sheep, goats, and cattle, the tending of which is the traditional
vocation of the Kyrgyz people. An estimated 83 percent of land
in agricultural use is mountainous pastureland. In the 1980s,
livestock production accounted for about 60 percent of the value
of the country's agricultural output; such production included
mutton, beef, eggs, milk, wool, and thoroughbred horses. In 1987,
when herds reached their largest numbers, about twice as much
grain was used for animal feed as for human consumption. However,
the prices of and demand for livestock products have dropped significantly
in the 1990s relative to those of crops. For this reason and because
Soviet-era herds had been supported largely by cheap imported
grain, in 1994 livestock contributed less than half the total
value of Kyrgyzstan's agricultural earnings. In 1994 the most
important livestock products were cow's milk (750,000 tons), beef
and veal (70,000 tons), mutton and lamb (50,000 tons), eggs (30,600
tons), wool (56,300 tons), pork products (30,000 tons), and poultry
meat (25,000 tons). All of those figures were below the totals
for the previous two years.
Agricultural Trends and Problems
The early 1990s saw many farmers turn from commercial production
to subsistence crops, a trend that hurt the country's export activities
(roughly half of its exports were agricultural in 1990) as well
as the availability of foods within Kyrgyzstan. Experts believe
that Kyrgyzstan's main agricultural problems are inappropriate
and slow-moving reforms (especially land redistribution), intrusive
bureaucratic regulations, poor availability of credit, and delayed
payments to farmers for their crops. More immediately, both water
and fertilizers have been in short supply since the end of the
Soviet Union. In addition, Kyrgyzstan's agriculture uses an average
of less than 50 percent of the amount of pesticides used by agriculture
in the Western nations.
In 1994 the agriculture sector was in the fourth and most difficult
year of a major decline that included reduced output, isolation
from commercial markets, decreased earnings, and a deteriorating
natural resource base (see table 6, Appendix). In 1994 total agricultural
output dropped by 17 percent, and the decline in marketed and
processed output was substantially greater because of the trend
toward subsistence farming. Production ceased to increase at about
the time of the collapse of the Soviet system, an event that initiated
the loss of markets and trading partners, the loss of transfer
payments from Moscow, and a condition of general monetary instability.
The national government did not address these problems effectively
in the first years of independence; in fact, government marketing
quotas, price controls, and trade restrictions exacerbated the
decline. By restricting farmers' marketing and pricing practices,
the government in effect levied a tax on agriculture that redistributed
income to other sectors of society. National reforms in land tenure,
farm organization, and the financial system, together with privatization
of services, were eroded by the continued authority of local officials
to interfere in administration of those reforms.
A key agricultural resource, pastureland, was degraded severely
by the Soviet-era practice of mandating livestock populations
too large for available pasturage on state farms and by post-Soviet
transfer of livestock from inefficient collective and state farms
to private ownership without limiting grazing rights on common
pastures. By 1994 over-grazing had led to serious erosion of much
pasture land (see Environmental Problems, this ch.).
In 1994 a continuing controversy over granting central bank credits
to support farmers during the growing season again made financial
support a dubious proposition. Without such support, planting
and fertilization would be severely limited because farmers in
many rural areas lack financial resources to buy seed and fertilizer.
On the other hand, such credits have always been a threat to the
government's overall economic program. For several reasons, including
the state's failure to pay farmers on time for their crops, the
agricultural sector's bank debts increased rapidly in the early
1990s. This situation was the basis of arguments that the government
could not afford to pay agricultural credits.
Data as of March 1996