"FREE LAND" PLEDGE NOT ALL IT APPEARS  It sounded good on paper, but hopeful 
applicants have found that claiming their own little piece of urban Kazakstan 
is near impossible.  By Gaziza Baituova in Taraz

TAJIK FARMERS HIT BY FUEL PRICE HIKES  Plagued by locusts and deeply in debt, 
the country's farmers warn rising petrol costs could be the last straw.  By 
IWPR staff in Tajikistan


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It sounded good on paper, but hopeful applicants have found that claiming their 
own little piece of urban Kazakstan is near impossible.

By Gaziza Baituova in Taraz

People in Kazakstan are up in arms after a seemingly generous offer from the 
government of free land for everyone proved less magnanimous than it first 

An August 1 decree said any adult citizen could claim one-tenth of a hectare of 
land to build a home on. Although it was not completely clear from the wording 
of the document, the implication suggested that getting a plot was as simple as 
presenting the appropriate documents at the local authority closest to where 
you wanted the property. 

The result was long queues and even scuffles in Kazakstan's two largest cities 
- Astana and Almaty - as both established residents and migrants who had come 
to the city to work jostled to claim their piece of urban land.

Disillusionment soon set in as applicants were told there was little chance of 
receiving the land. 

"When people arrived to register with state agencies and found they had been 
deceived, they broke the office windows out of sheer desperation," said Rozlana 
Taukina, the head of the Journalists in Trouble foundation, who witnessed one 
such incident. 

"The thing is, they had been given a sliver of hope. Then they were told that 
they'd have to wait for news from higher authorities, but that they would not 
be getting their 0.1 hectare plots any time soon. That enraged them... and 
that's why they smashed windows. Then they went off - having waited hours and 
hours in the queue." 

Almaty, the financial centre of Central Asia, and Astana, Kazakstan's capital 
since 1997, have both enjoyed a building boom in recent years. The state has 
sold off much of its real estate for commercial use, so land is in short supply 
in city centres and the growing suburbs.

The mayor's offices in both cities are trying to dampen public expectations of 
what they can actually deliver.

"The cabinet decree.... is not applicable in the conditions of our city," said 
Kozhakhan Zhabagiev, who heads the land department at the Almaty administration.

Astana governor Umirzak Shukeev said the situation was much the same in the 
capital. "Everyone thinks we will simply hand out plots of land around Astana, 
but this cannot be done," he said. 

Shukeev recalled the tense situation that has built up in Almaty suburb of 
Shanyrak, where an underprivileged local population has in recent months 
clahsed repeatedly with police trying to evict them from what the authorities 
say are illegal shantytowns. 

"Certain limitations need to be applied in order to avoid things getting out of 
hand," said Shukeev.

The government order states that local authorities have the right to turn an 
application down, or to place the applicant on a waiting list if there is no 
land available.  

"In Almaty and Astana, acquiring even one plot of land is today unrealistic. 
There is simply no land," Ramazan Sarpekov, a justice ministry official, told 
the Kazak news organisation Liter. "When they were drafting the decree, they 
should have taken account of the realities of large cities which have the 
highest population density."

Kazakstan is one of the world's largest countries, and with just 15 million 
people there should be enough land to go round. However, high rural 
unemployment rates mean that more than half the population now lives in or near 
increasingly crowded urban areas, where employment as well as public services 
is more readily available.

In the biggest cities, incoming migrants have little chance of buying a home 
when most long-established residents cannot afford the European-level prices.

"There's a clash of interests here - a catastrophic shortage of land, and far 
too many people wanting land in Astana and Almaty," said Andrei Grishin of the 
Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. 

Eduard Poletaev, a political analyst and editor of the Mir Yevrazii (Eurasian 
World) magazine, told IWPR that the promise of free land was a poorly-thought 
out attempt by central government to be seen to be helping people, without much 
though for the real implications.

Poletaev is doubtful that many people will acquire land, even though the 
authorities will go through the motions. "Applications to receive land will be 
accepted and registered. And then they will lie for a long time in the official 
files, thus keeping people's hopes up so that they can be fed with promises for 
many more years," he said.

Many of the commentators interviewed by IWPR suggested the government was 
engaged in a misplaced attempt to show it was doing something to mitigate land 
disputes, such as the one in Shanyrak and other outlying suburbs of Almaty. 

"I suspect the decree is intended to reduce the tension...and also to abdicate 
responsibility," said Grishin. "If there are more incidents like Shanyrak 
[violence], the authorities can simply say, 'We've given you land, we've done 
what we could. What else do you want from us?'" 

Gaziza Baituova is an IWPR correspondent in Taraz.


Plagued by locusts and deeply in debt, the country's farmers warn rising petrol 
costs could be the last straw.

By IWPR staff in Tajikistan

Tajikistan's farmers face a bleak future as soaring fuel prices worsen their 
financial woes and drive them ever deeper into debt.

Already reeling from a summer locust plague that damaged cotton crops, farmers 
are now coping with a near-30 per cent rise in fuel prices last month. Petrol 
costs around 80 cents per litre with the Ministry for Economy and Trade 
predicting a further 10 per cent rise still to come.

There are several reasons for this rise, some specific to Tajikistan and others 
connected to world oil prices, which have fallen recently but are still high 
after hitting an all-time record in mid-July in the wake of the Lebanon crisis.

Tajikistan imports most of its petroleum products from Kazakstan, which 
recently began curtailing sales of petrol to Tajikistan and other countries, as 
it does every autumn to ensure its own citizens have the fuel they need for the 
harvest. There were also temporary restrictions by Uzbekistan on the Kazak fuel 
transiting its territory, adding to the shortage and high cost of oil.

A source in Tajikistan's anti-monopoly agency source told IWPR that in addition 
to these external constraints, the Tajik currency had fallen against the US 
dollar, making import and retail costs higher. 

The source speculated that fuel distributors are conspiring among themselves to 
keep prices high. That's a claim the industry denies, with the director of the 
Zuhro petrol company pointing out that rising international oil prices 
naturally affect Tajikistan. "If this was an artificial price rise, it would 
have been noticed by the anti-monopoly agency which monitors the situation," he 

Whatever the cause, those most affected are Tajikistan's farmers who use diesel 
fuel to power their tractors and harvesters. 

The vast majority are already in huge debt to intermediaries known as futures 
companies, which provide loans, fuel, seeds, fertiliser and equipment at 
usurious interest rates. On the open market, diesel retails at around 50-80 
cents a litre but the farmers complain the futures companies are selling it to 
them at one dollar or even more.

"We're completely dependent on the investors [the futures companies]. At the 
moment we have to beg them to get us just five tons of fuel. The cotton harvest 
has already begun, and we have to use from 280 to 300 litres of fuel per 
hectare of cotton fields," Kurbon Hikmatulloev, the head of the Khoja-Sartez 
farm in the southern Vose region, told IWPR.

"Tajik farmers work at a loss, and if things continue like this, the cotton 
growers will be in permanent debt to their investors."

The "futures contract" system was introduced at the outset of Tajikistan's land 
reform in 1996, as sprawling collective farms left over from the Soviet era 
were broken up into smaller private holdings. Businesses sprang up to advance 
money and inputs such as fuel and seed to farmers in anticipation of income 
from the harvest later that year, but the system failed to take poor weather 
conditions into account. Local monopoly buyers also control the market, meaning 
the purchase value of crops is artificially depressed.

The result is that farmers like Hikmatulloev find themselves with a net loss at 
year-end, and a debt that rolls over into the next spring when the cycle 
continues as farmers take out new advance loans.

Abdusalom Karimov, the head of the Sarafali Zaripov farm in southern 
Tajikistan, says rising fuel prices are just making things worse. Like 
Hikmatulloev, he says producing his crop now costs more than he will get paid 
for the harvest.

But it is not only farmers who are being affected by higher petrol prices. The 
cost of food and services are also on the rise.

"We bring our produce to sell at markets in the capital. As the price of petrol 
has increase, we have also increased the price of our produce," said Sobirjon, 
a farmer from the Hissar district near Dushanbe. "Of course we hear our 
customers' dissatisfaction, but the market is the market. If the dollar 
exchange rate increases or petrol gets more expensive, then we too have to 
raise our prices." 

A shuttle bus driver told IWPR he's also hearing protests from passengers. Many 
Tajik buses and cars used to run on natural gas contained in cylinders, but 
these have recently been banned due to the frequent explosions, increasing both 
prices and demand for the petrol they now need.

"Every day in the shuttle bus, we hear people complaining that we take too many 
passengers and raise prices," he said. "But we don't have a choice even though 
we feel sorry for people."

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