Agriculture in Central Asia

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Agriculture in Central Asia provides a brief regional overview of agriculture in the five contiguous states of former Soviet Central AsiaKazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Two other countries that are sometimes classified as Central Asian – Afghanistan and Mongolia – are not included in this overview because of their substantially different background.

The five Central Asian countries are highly agrarian, with 60% of the population living in rural areas and agriculture accounting for over 45% of total number of employed and nearly 25% of GDP on average.[1] Kazakhstan, with its strong energy sector, is less agrarian than the average Central Asian country, with agriculture accounting for only 8% of GDP (but still 33% of total employment). It is closer in this respect to the core CIS countries of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, where agriculture contributes around 10% of GDP and agricultural employment averages 15%.

Agricultural land in Central Asia is mostly desert and mountain pastures. Arable land suitable for crop production is around 20% of total agricultural land (and as low as 4% in Turkmenistan). In Russia and Ukraine, on the other hand, arable land is 60%-80% of agricultural land.[1] As a result, pasture-based livestock production is more prominent in Central Asia than in the core CIS countries.

By far the two most significant crops in Central Asia are cotton and wheat. Only Kazakhstan does not cultivate significant amounts of cotton. Central Asia is largely desert, and cotton production strongly relies on irrigation. More than 80% of arable land in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan is irrigated, and only Kazakhstan, with its wheat-based crop production, irrigates only 7% of its arable land.[1] The emphasis on intensive cotton cultivation in the Amudarya and Syrdarya basin countries has played a major role in the drying and polluting of the Aral Sea because of the large amounts of water and fertilizer used in cotton cultivation. Cotton mono-culture during the Soviet period exhausted the soil and led to serious plant diseases, which adversely affect cotton yields to this date.

The cultivation of wheat has also contributed to environmental issues, starting with the Virgin Lands Campaign during the Soviet era. Because the precautionary measures taken to preserve soil quality when the campaign began were insufficient, the soil eroded and its nutrients became degraded by excessive mono-crop cultivation. This history continues to impact grain production today, particularly in Kazakhstan.

Aside from these two primary crops, the region produces a wide variety of products which include barley, corn, flax, grapes, potatoes, rice, sugar beets, sunflowers, tobacco, apricots, pears, plums, apples, cherries, pomegranates, melons, dates, figs, sesame, pistachios, and nuts.

Animal husbandry constitutes a large part of Central Asian agriculture. Cattle, sheep, and poultry are the main animal species in agriculture, and breeding race horses is the pride of Turkmenistan. Some famous local breeds include the Karakul sheep and the Akhal-Teke horse. Some regions also cultivate mulberry trees and breed silkworms.

Cotton industry[edit]

One of the leaders of cotton production is the Turkmenistan. The country had in the past been criticized by rights groups for widespread use of child labor in gathering cotton, but the country's human rights record has improved since President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in December 2006, signed a decree banning child labor. Jeans with a "Made in Turkmenistan" label are now sold in a variety of Western supermarket chains, including US company WalMart. Since Turkmenistan's independence in 1991, more than $1.3 billion has been invested in building new and modernizing existing textile factories. This includes $300 million in foreign investment. In his words, the share of raw cotton processed domestically into cotton fiber has risen from 3 percent in 1991 to 51 percent today. [2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Z. Lerman and I. Stanchin, "Agrarian reforms in Turkmenistan", in: S.C. Babu and S. Djalalov, eds., Policy Reform and Agriculture Development in Central Asia, Springer, New York, 2006, pp. 222-223, ISBN 0-387-29779-0
  2. ^ Agriculture in the Black Sea Region, Turkmenistan: Turkmenistan to attract foreign investment to expand its cotton industry