Uzbekistan case study: Highlighting the Importance of Small Land Holders in Post-Soviet Central Asia

Uzbekistan farmers
Water management has proven critical for Uzbekistan small holder farmers

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian states were left to conduct their own agricultural policy. Uzbekistan, a highly agrarian state during the Soviet period, slowly dissolved all collective farms and privatized its agricultural lands. But Uzbekistan kept the inherited state order system for cotton from the Soviet Union and introduced an additional state order system for wheat.

In 2008, with the population of the country being about 25 million, the number of private farms reached 215,776 with an average size of 27 ha. Hence, only a small number of the population working during the Soviet Union in agriculture received land. In the same year, a process of “land optimization” started consequently reducing the number of private farms to 66,134. Nevertheless,  80% of agricultural food production outside the state order system is contributed by the kitchen gardens and extended kitchen gardens (dehkan plots), thus ensuring households’ food security of the rural and urban areas.

The land reforms required adequate water management reforms, and in 2002, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the procedure of establishing Water Users Associations (WUA), later renamed as Water Consumer Associations (WCA).

The law requires that it is only legal entities (mainly farmers and dehkan farms) may become members of such institutions. This can be interpreted and as local practice shows, WUAs serve the interests of large farms, and therefore the allocation of water resources to village ditches is restricted during the cotton season.

A young researcher from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Central Asia office, Nozilakhon Muhammedova, highlights the importance of integrating small land holders and the importance of the changing role of women in irrigated agriculture. In her recent study, led by Dr Kai Wegerich within the Integrated Water Resources Management Ferghana Valley project, she focuses on Uzbekistan’s Fergana province.

Nozilakhon highlights that so far water policy, as well as international agricultural water projects in Central Asia, have focused mainly on farmers. True, this approach may provide for water efficiency, however, at the same time the interests of small agricultural users such as kitchen gardens should not be ignored.

Since the beginning of water reforms, around 16 different international WUA projects have been launched in Uzbekistan. So far only one (the IWRM Ferghana Valley project) has attempted to integrate small land holders within WCA – in particular household kitchen gardens within villages.

“Given the expansion and increased importance of kitchen gardens for the majority of the rural population for livelihood security it is necessary to reprioritize on their respective water needs and towards better integration in WCA and more equitable treatment as paying members”, Nozilakhon concludes.

Blogpost and picture by Firdavs Kabilov, one of the GCARD social reporters

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