Uzbekistan: Farmers are against land reforms
Uzbekistan embarked upon land reforms according to the 3077 decree signed by President Karimov in October 2008. Its aim is to strengthen the farm households by drawing hodgepodge of small farmlands under one holder. Local observers come to agree that land reforms what looks more as an attempt of "collectivization," will cause discontent among Uzbek farmers, which will, at best, erupt in local protests.
The minimum threshold that allows the government to take away farmlands is 30 hectares, or twice as large depending on certain regions, which will be reportedly provided to farmers with relatively larger lands.
Falling under discretion of local hakims, or local administration heads, procedures on who will own the collected land and how much more lands will change owners is still unknown. No official media outlets have mentioned about the decree. What is clear so far is the reforms will be introduced in every region of Uzbekistan, aimed at “optimization” of farmland through a 50 percent slash of cotton fields, while increasing the agricultural orientation on growing of foodstuff.
Considering the employment uncertainty of farmers after the reforms fully implemented, the local human rights activists are concerned about its long-term consequences on the population. Land in Uzbekistan is not a private property and can only be rented from the government for a certain time period. According to Ganihon Mamadhanov, representative of human rights organization in Ferghana region, the land reforms will lead to unemployment and result in worsening of living standards. In turn, it will likely generate a favorable ground for religious extremism, Mamadhanov said.
The independent Tashkent-based Uzmetronom argues that there is a chance the farmers will end up as farm laborers “in the hands of a few tycoons possessing hundreds and thousands hectares of land.” “However small, the people still want to have their own land,” it says.
Nevertheless, the government’s endeavor for such measures does not seem totally unjustifiable. A local economist, who wished to stay anonymous, thinks it is a practical way to increase effectiveness of the agricultural sector. “To grow wheat on five hectares of land is often loss-making.”
Obviously, a potential of dwarf size farms cannot go far beyond providing subsistence for farmers. Farmers are too week to buy and their lands small in size to use agricultural machinery, which would otherwise increase the output. As farmers remain uncontrollable, they also hamper the promotion of long-term plans of the government, negatively influencing a mass production of agricultural products.
As the government has been unwilling to provide explanations to back their reforms, increasing information gap and occasional use of police force to claim lands inflates rumors of protests held by farmers. In human rights activists’ view, it may well signal an increasing discontent of the people. “I receive calls at night from disillusioned farmers, who complain the police and prokuratura (Prosecutor General office) threaten against their lives if they file an appeal and if they don’t voluntary give up their lands,” said Mamadhanov.
The Initiative Group of Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan reports of arbitrary rule of administration heads of a dozen of districts in Ferghana, Andijan, Tashkent, Kashkadaryinskaya, and Surhandaryinskaya regions. They force farmers to abandon their lands, irrespective of the fact they officially rented them for 49 years. Legal proceedings await those who refused.