TAJIKISTAN: LESS FOOD ON THE TABLE  Farming sector now so unproductive that 
even Tajik specialities like fruit are being imported.  By Lola Olimova and 
Shamsiddin Rizoev in Dushanbe

KAZAK CONSTRUCTION SLUMP SPARKS PROTESTS  Residents of two biggest cities 
protest over housing scams, bankruptcies and evictions.  By Irina Stupakova in 

KYRGYZ WARY OF CHINESE BEARING GIFTS  Beijing offers a sweetener to get its TV 
programmes shown in Kyrgyzstan, but some commentators fear cultural 
encroachment.  By Mirgul Akimova in Bishkek


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Farming sector now so unproductive that even Tajik specialities like fruit are 
being imported. 

By Lola Olimova and Shamsiddin Rizoev in Dushanbe

“Look at what’s happening here!” says Professor Inom Asrorov in dismay. “We’re 
importing tea, grain, oil and even fruit. And it’s made us highly dependent on 
world food prices.” 

Although the professor is deputy director of Tajikistan’s Institute of 
Economics, his concerns are far from academic – they go to the heart of a 
crisis facing the poorest of the five Central Asian states. 

As a major importer of basic commodities, Tajikistan has found itself more 
vulnerable than most countries to the rise in world prices for both food and 
fuel in recent months. 

Many economists believe the country could soon face a decline in revenues as 
the international financial crisis reduces the spending power of donors and 
investors. (See Tajik Economists Fear Impact of Global Crisis, RCA No. 552, 

Against this difficult backdrop, Professor Asrorov highlights a particularly 
alarming trend – the kinds of foodstuffs he listed are things that Tajikistan 
should be able to produce for itself even in times of trouble. Instead, 
home-grown fruit and vegetables are disappearing, replaced by imports which are 
steadily more expensive. 


Tajikistan imports some 60 per cent of the grain and flour its population 
consumes, mainly from Russia and Kazakstan. Asrorov estimates that the country 
needs 1.5 million tons of various grains a year and currently grows between 
450,000 and 600,000 tons. 

Those countries plus Uzbekistan, Iran and China are also the source of many 
other imported food items. 

Until last year, the Tajiks produced all the fruit and vegetables and a good 
proportion of the meat and dairy products they needed. That has started to 
change, and these items, too, are now being imported. 

Rahmon Shukurov, who lectures at Tajikistan’s Agrarian University as well as 
working on international biodiversity projects, says it actually works out 
cheaper to import foodstuffs. 

“There are reports of our [Tajik] businessmen renting land and growing 
vegetables in Uzbekistan, where rent is cheaper and fertilisers and fuel are 
cheaper,” he said. “It’s significantly cheaper to grow and transport tomatoes 
from Iran than to grow them here. They are even importing greens from 
Afghanistan now. 

The reasons for the decline in agricultural production are not new – lack of 
arable land, soil degradation, an over-dependence on cotton which displaces 
edible crops, the lack of manpower in rural communities, and seasonal variables 
such as last winter’s unusually harsh climatic conditions. 

But the confluence of all these factors in a worsening economic climate could 
create a food crisis for Tajikistan, according to some experts. 

For the moment, the markets are still full of food, although because much of it 
is imported, it is beyond the reach of many Tajiks. 

“There are vegetables, fruit and grain at the markets, but not everyone can 
afford to buy as much as they need,” Professor Asrorov told IWPR. 

He added that food import volumes were far higher than is desirable for 
economic stability. 

These imports are having a serious impact on overall price levels. The 
statistical agency of the Commonwealth of Independent States recently said 
year-on-year inflation for the eight months from January to August stood at 31 
per cent. That represents a substantial increase even on the latest 
International Monetary Fund, IMF, forecast of just under 22 per cent for 2008, 
and is higher than the inflation observed in any other Central Asian state. 

Imomali Akai is typical of the kind of person hardest hit by price rises. 
Although at 60 he is near retirement age, he works from dawn to dusk as porter 
at a city market in the capital Dushanbe. 

“I used to get a wage of 100 roubles [a month] and I could save 30 or 40 for 
other things,” he said. “Now I’ve only got enough to buy flour. Life has become 


With its hot summers, Tajikistan used to be famous for citrus fruits, grapes 
and other fresh fruit vegetables. Until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the 
produce would be transported to other parts of the country, but in subsequent 
years – which in Tajikistan’s case was aggravated by the bloody civil war of 
1992-97 –the old economic and transport links were broken. As a result, until 
recently, Tajikistan had a surplus of unexported fruit which sold for next to 
nothing in peak season. 

However, the overall decline in agriculture means many farmers are struggling 
to produce even the basics. 

Rahim Abdullaev, 46, lives in the Bokhtar district of Khatlon region in 
southern Tajikistan, and earns a living by working in a bakery selling the 
traditional flat bread that is a staple item for Tajiks. But his monthly wages 
are only enough to buy half the amount of flour he needs to support an extended 
family of 18, for whom he is the main breadwinner. 

Abdullaev counts himself lucky for two reasons – the bakery owner gives him 
flour on credit, and he has relatives working in Russia who send back money to 
keep the family afloat. 

The family has some land on which they grow fruit and vegetables and keep a 
couple of cows for the milk. In earlier day, they lived better by growing 
peaches, apricots, apples and pears. But the orchards were badly damaged when 
the village was torched by paramilitaries during the civil war. 

Even now, Abdullaev says, yields are getting worse and worse. This year, he had 
to make four attempts to plant tomatoes as they became infested with parasites. 

“Everything is very expensive at the market, so we decided to plant potatos to 
feed the family. We planted them in spring but there were no rains so the 
harvest was small and we’re going to have to buy in more potatoes for the 
winter,” said Abdullaev, “Without the help we get from over there [labour 
migrants in Russa] we’d never be able to make ends meet.” 

The family’s basic diet consists of bread and dairy products and occasionally 
rice. They eat meat only on holidays, or when guests visit, as the Tajik 
tradition of hospitality demands. 


Tajikistan has unfavourable starting conditions for agriculture. Over 90 of the 
country consists of mountains so there is very little flat arable land to start 
with. Around 20 per cent of the country is used for agriculture and another 10 
per cent or so for pasture. 

Overuse of the limited land available has led to degradation of the soil. The 
Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management, a donor-funded regional 
project, estimates that 97 per cent of Tajik farmland has been harmed by poor 
irrigation practices and salination. In the arid flatlands of north and south 
Tajikistan, most of the land used to be artificially irrigated but that is no 
longer the case as water systems have fallen into disrepair and often there is 
no electricity to drive the pumps. 

Shukurov says rising subsoil waters are now a major problem. This is especially 
true around Qorghan Tepa in southwestern Tajikistan – traditionally the main 
production area for fruit and vegetables. 

“In a number of districts in that [Qorghan Tepa] zone, subsoil water levels are 
so high that it’s even becoming a danger to human habitation,” he said. “For 
vegetables, it’s just death.” 

Shukurov explained that drainage systems are no longer working, which leads to 
salination and makes previously productive farmland no longer usable. 

Tajikistan has to import fuel, fertiliser, pesticides and parts for now aging 
farm machinery, the rising costs of which make running a farm less and less 
sustainable. And because farmers do not have the money to buy pesticides, their 
crops are vulnerable to infestation. 

“In the last few years, whitefly has become endemic there [Qorghan Tepa area] 
doing colossal harm to vegetables and other plants. There just aren’t the funds 
to wage a massive war on it in this country,” said Shukurov. 

Another major pest affecting large swathes of southern Tajikistan is the 
locust, which forms massive swarms and destroys cropland wholesale. (For more 
on the annual locust invasion, see Central Asia’s Poorest States in Crisis, RCA 
No. 532, 15-Feb-08.) 

There is little that can be done to prevent the same happening again if the 
coming winter is another cold one. But economists say better management of the 
sector and more considered use of the land available could begin to turn things 
round in the longer term. 

Professor Umarov wants to see greater application of science in farming to make 
it more productive. 

“Yields must be increased,” he said. “To achieve that we need qualified staff…. 
Agronomists, agrochemists and land amelioration experts.” 

Asrorov agreed, saying that land needed to be used more effectively, and 
recommended that “hillsides should be used for orchards and vines, and not for 
wheat, which exhausts the soil and leads to wind erosion”. 

Lola Olimova is IWPR editor in Tajikistan. Shamsiddin Rizoev is an IWPR-trained 
journalist in Dushanbe. 


Residents of two biggest cities protest over housing scams, bankruptcies and 

By Irina Stupakova in Almaty

As the construction boom seen in Kazakstan’s larger cities slows to a halt, 
anger over unbuilt homes and broken promises is driving people to take to the 
streets in protest. 

A series of protests over housing issues have taken place in the capital Astana 
and the country’ commercial centre Almaty this month. 

The demonstrators represented various groups – former army officers with 
nowhere to live, people whose homes are to be demolished to make way for 
redevelopment, and others who have lost everything they invested in now 
bankrupt construction firms. 

Over the last decade, both Astana and Almaty have experienced large influxes of 
people looking to benefit from the better employment prospects there, which are 
largely the result of the country’s oil wealth. With housing in high demand, 
the construction industry took off and new buildings started shooting up. 

However, by the end of 2007, the crisis in the United States mortgage market 
was making itself felt in Kazakstan. Local banks that had been underwriting the 
building boom found themselves over-exposed by extensive borrowing from abroad. 
There were also concerns about domestic loan quality – whether people who had 
taken out mortgages would be able to repay them. 

Kazak banks reacted by raising interest rates and cutting the amount of credit 
on offer, and this had an immediate impact in Almaty, Astana and other large 
cities, where some projects were scaled down and others suspended entirely 
pending an upturn. 

Recent protests have included one on October 20 by a group of people in Astana 
who paid over money to a construction firm that then went bankrupt; a 
demonstration in Almaty against a construction firm that stopped building a 
housing complex even though the project was being funded by government; and a 
street action by retired defence ministry staff who collected money to give to 
the ministry since it had failed to find the funds to pay for housing for them. 

The biggest event was a rally on October 11 which brought together army reserve 
officers demanding to be housed, residents of areas scheduled for demolition, 
and people who had lost out in mortgage deals. Although their demands differed, 
they presented a united front in demanding firm government action against the 
state agencies, courts and businesses they blamed for their problems. 

Many of them represented pressure groups which have fought lengthy legal 
battles with property developers and the local authorities. 

“This is not a rally to shed tears, it is a rally to protest,” the protesters 
were told by Aynur Kurmanov, who heads Talmas, one of the groups that organised 
the event. 

Esen, a 42-year-old Almaty resident attending the rally, was there because the 
area where he lives in central Almaty is scheduled for redevelopment. The city 
authorities have approved demolition of the 1950s housing blocks there and 
awarded property developers a building permit for this prime location. 

“Our housing block doesn’t interest them,” said Esen. “The land it’s built on 
and the surrounding area can be sold at a profit to build luxury housing.” 

The Almaty authorities have offered to rehouse residents, but the apartments it 
has in mind are a long way from the city centre, and it can take up to two and 
a half years to get one. 

“Only a fool would agree to that,” said Esen. “My neighbours and I are in a 
difficult situation and I am afraid they will force us out.” 

Another group represented at to October 11 rally were members of the emerging 
middle class who took out mortgages to invest in construction ventures, only to 
find that the firms went bust or that they were fictitious front companies. 

Igor Li, 39, from Almaty fell into the latter category and blames the 
government for allowing companies to operate fraudulently. 

“All these companies were legally registered and really existed for some time; 
they had tax inspections and audits. Why didn’t the authorities spot the 
fraudsters at the time, and why don’t they hold them accountable now?” he 

Pressure groups focusing on a particular social issue are not a new phenomenon 
in Kazakstan. (See Kazak Authorities Reluctant to Allow Public Protests, RCA 
No. 490, 23-Apr-07; and Kazakstan: Trouble in Suburbia, RCA No. 443, 

However, this year has seen them coalesce to form a broader front. 

“New movements issuing demands to the government and to financial and 
commercial institutions have appeared,” said Kurmanov. “Disputes over social 
issues are going to grow; that is obvious from the rising number of meetings, 
pickets and rallies.” 

Independent journalist Daur Dosybiev believes protests grounded in social 
concerns have taken on much more of a political colouring than they had a 
couple of years ago. 

This, he says, because people increasingly believe the problems they face are a 
direct consequence of “the alliance between money and power”. 

“Today the protestors see they are the victims of companies that continue to 
prosper, some businessmen make the transition into government, and when people 
get cheated, the courts either make strange decisions or issue orders that are 
simply ignored.” 

Vladimir Yuritsin, a journalist who covered the October 11 rally, believes 
Kazakstan is likely to see further social unrest stemming from a range of 

“The potential for protests is definitely growing, as can be seen by the rise 
in inter-ethnic tension and the confrontation between rich and poor, and 
between members of the public and the institutions of government,” he said. 

Gulmira Kurganbaeva, who heads the national government department in charge of 
overseeing Almaty’s finances, insisted that the authorities were addressing the 
concerns raised by demonstrators. 

“First, those construction firms that received state funding are going to 
resume building work. And there are plans to introduce a law protecting 
shareholder rights,” she said. Although she acknowledged that these were 
difficult times and government intervention was needed, she said people who 
invested in construction projects should have done more to safeguard their 

“If the shareholders themselves had pushed for legislation to protect their 
rights three years ago, we wouldn’t have had the current situation,” she said. 

Irina Stupakova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Almaty.


Beijing offers a sweetener to get its TV programmes shown in Kyrgyzstan, but 
some commentators fear cultural encroachment.

By Mirgul Akimova in Bishkek

A Chinese offer to provide high-tech TV equipment for an isolated part of 
Kyrgyzstan has met with a sceptical response from commentators who suspect an 
ulterior motive. 

What worries them is the other part of the deal, under which news from Beijing 
will be broadcast in Kyrgyzstan. That has led to claims that the country is 
willingly subjecting itself to propaganda from its giant neighbour.

A press statement from the Kyrgyz parliament on October 21 announced that 
members had debated a series of agreements with China, one of which would see 
up to 15,000 digital TV receivers supplied to Batken region, in southwestern 

Officials from the Kyrgyz communications ministry say the deal would help 
overcome the physical isolation of Batken, a slice of land enveloped between 
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Until now, viewers there have only been able to 
watch TV channels from the two neighbouring states. Digital boxes will give 
them access to Kyrgyz national television for the first time. As well as two TV 
channels from Kyrgyzstan, they will also be able to watch channels from Russia 
and elsewhere. 

According to Ernis Mamyrkanov of the Kyrgyz broadcaster El TV and Radio, “The 
free distribution of TV receivers will reduce Uzbek and Tajik expansion in 
southern Kyrgyzstan.”

He added that it would also speed up the transition to digital broadcasting, 
which Kyrgyzstan plans to complete nationwide by 2014.

Batken’s isolated location was one of the reasons why the militant Islamic 
Movement of Uzbekistan was able to use it as a launch-pad for incursions into 
Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. These raids put Batken on the map, and the Kyrgyz 
government pledged to tackle social and economic problems facing the region.

The Chinese will also supply a new printing press for Batken, making it cheaper 
to produce newspapers. 

Most commentators seem happy with this side of the deal. What worries them is 
the prospect of greater Chinese cultural influence via the airwaves.

China has increasing commercial links with Kyrgyzstan, with many businessmen 
operating in the country and high levels of bilateral trade. Many residents of 
Kyrgyzstan are, however, suspicious of Beijing’s motives, and the latest deal 
will – if passed by parliament – only heighten those concerns.

In reality, the Chinese TV rebroadcasts that are envisaged are rather limited 
in scope. First, the two channels will be seen only in the capital Bishkek, and 
second, the news will be in English rather than in a language most people would 

But some analysts are still concerned that the broadcasts form part of a 
concerted cultural invasion. 

“The Chinese government is deliberately trying to create a political and 
cultural environment that is loyal to China,” said political scientist Nur 

“The fact that the Chinese have been granted permission to broadcast here is 
very telling, and it’s a trend that is set to increase.”

Another commentator, who asked to remain anonymous, asked “what the Chinese are 
going to broadcast and who is going to check the content”.

Deputy transport and communications minister Taalaybek Eshaliev has the answer. 
“This is not about giving the Chinese a television or radio channel,” he said. 
“It will be rebroadcasts of the state CCTV 9 channel, which mainly focuses on 
economic news in English.” 

Narynbek Moldobaev, who chairs the parliamentary committee in charge of 
communications, said legislators had put in place steps to guarantee national 
“information security”. 

“These channels will be serviced by a Kyrgyz company. We will have levers of 
control,” he said.

Some commentators note that the arrival of Chinese TV only adds to the crowded 
media scene in Kyrgyzstan, where media from Russia are widely available, 
Kazakstan TV and radio are available in the north and programmes from 
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are available in the south.

Mirgul Akimova is the pseudonym of a journalist in Kyrgyzstan.

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