5 august 2020

Central Asia news

Uzbekistan: Ezgulik asked to the World Bank to correct the mistakes

17.12.2010 10:03 msk

Mariya Yanovskaya

Human Rights Uzbekistan

Ezgulik human rights organization directed the report to Shigeo Katsu, vice-Presdient of the World Bank for Europe and Central Asia, where it analyzed the World Bank project on Rural Enterprise Support, phase 2 (RESP-2). In accordance with this project, the World Bank allocates $67.96 million to Uzbekistan for support of agriculture.

RESP-2 is the continuation of RESP-1 project that was supported by the World Bank in 2001-2008. According to the project, RESP-2 is implemented since the beginning of 2010 through 2015 and must cover 7 oblasts and 7 districts of Uzbekistan.

The budget of RESP-1 was $36.16 million; the project was implemented during 2001-2008 in 5 districts of Uzbekistan: Akhangaran (Tashkent Oblast), Elikalin district (Karakalpakstan), Markhamat district (Andijan), Nishan district (Kashkadaria Oblast) and Sherabad district (Surkhandaria district). The project was positively evaluated by the government of Uzbekistan, the World Bank and UN Food and Agriculture Organization). The only area, where the project was successfully implemented, is the repairs of irrigation and drain systems and provision of loans to farmers in five selected districts. However, the privatization was not completed; the farmers did not receive real autonomy and protection from direct interference of the state.

According to Ezgulik, the financing of the agriculture in Uzbekistan by the World Bank is based on two statements that, in the opinion of human right organization, are questionable and need to be revised. First, WB recognizes the successful agricultural reforms in Uzbekistan. Second, the use of child labor may be viewed as separate and non-systematical violations. The human rights advocates characterize these statements of WB as "totally not reflecting the reality", but WB, continuing the financing, disorients the world community and donor projects, implemented in Uzbekistan.

The second phase of RESP was initiated by the government of Uzbekistan and, in the opinion of Ezgulik, therefore, the World Bank "had lever of pressure in order to stimulate the Uzbek government to perform its international duties in relation to rights of farmers and children". However, this was not done.

Human rights advocates are affirmed that Tashkent ignores the critics because not all people in the world are informed about the situation in Uzbekistan while "some respected international organizations not only show indifference, but also support the vision of the government on the state of this problem". The human rights activists remind that initially UNICEF also supported the governmental vision on insignificant use of forced child labor; however, later on, listening to critical comments, it changed its position and admitted the presence of the problem.

The goal of Ezgulik report is to one more time openly articulate the problems and explain the authors of RESP-2 that money, allocated by the World Bank, does not help solve the problems in the agriculture, but makes them more complicated.

Ferghana offers short review of the World Bank statements that, in the opinion of Ezgulik, need to be corrected and openly discussed.

The replacement of kolkhoz by private farm did not lead to reforms

The World Bank affirms that the replacement of kolkhoz by private farm is the evidence of fundamental reforms, implemented in the agricultural sector of Uzbekistan.

Ezgulik believes this statement is "too optimistic". The cancellation of kolkhoz just imitated the reform; the relations between the producers of agricultural output and state changed insignificantly. The farmers in Uzbekistan got neither real autonomy nor freedom of entrepreneurship.

As a rule, the private farm enterprises were established on the basis of former kolkhoz crews that became the legal entities; the group leaders were allowed to open bank accounts. At the same time, the farmers are still governed by local authorities and various pro-government structures. The administrative-command management system is still present in the agricultural sector.

Today, the kolkhoz chairmen hold managing positions in various associations such as the Association of water users or Association of private and farm enterprises. Ezgulik says that the administration of these associations controls farmers and on their behalf it is involved in "collection of bribes from farmers in exchange for various privileges or access to such resources as best land, irrigation water, POL, decreased of directive plan indicators for selling the products".

The government still sets the norms (directive plans) for selling the products and the farmers are hardly able to perform the tasks. In case the farmer does not perform the plan he may be punished and his land may be confiscated.

The farmers are not allowed to independently manage their funds and assets. Most of farm enterprises depend on monopolists, offering the services of kolkhoz machinery or trading the fertilizers, seeds and other.

New class of farmers and old problems

The World Bank documents indicate that the reforms in Uzbekistan created new class of private farmers that is now free of direct state administration.

In the opinion of human rights organization, "this is absolutely faulty assessment of current situation". The farmers remain the target of direct state control, the government instructs "what to crop and whom to sell". The government has central power in determining the prices for agricultural products that do not cover the production costs. Non-performance of state order may result of confiscation of land and legal prosecution. There were cases of physical harassment of farmers: "local khokims (head of administrations) regularly assault and insult the farmers at public meetings". According to Ezgulik, these few hours-long meetings take place every evening and the farmers’ participation there is mandatory.

Earlier, the group leaders were free of inspection; only the chairman of kolkhoz dealt with the inspectors. Today, the farmers are constantly being inspected by police, the investigators from the office of public prosecutor, tax inspectors; nearly every farmer is forced to "pay off". "Giving bribes and other forced payment to the state authorities became the essential part of budget of farm enterprises", the human rights leaders state.

Every year the farmers are required to produce more cotton with no consideration of condition of land, access to water and weather conditions. The compulsory "khashar" (volunteer clean-ups, allegedly, involving free and voluntary labor for public benefit). The office of public prosecutor has department, controlling the farmers.

The World Bank is confident that "directive plans (quotas) were reduced for cotton and wheat".

Ezgulik denies such statement: "comparing with the Soviet period, the plan for gross production of the cotton remains nearly the same at the level of 1.5 million tons of ginned cotton. At the same time, the cultivated area shrank significantly and the condition of land deteriorated. As a result, real cotton productivity and revenues, generated by farmers, do not cover the production costs". Nearly entire output is forcedly sold to the state at low prices and the farmers operate without gaining profit.

Best purchase prices for cotton is set during the first period of harvesting when the farmers still perform the governmental order. By the end of cropping the cotton plants buy cotton at low prices and, therefore, it is important for the farmer to sell maximum volume of cotton in the first 2-3 weeks.

The purchase prices are up, but the subsidies are canceled and the debt is not written off

The World Bank is affirmed that "the state raised the purchase price for cotton and wheat. Although the purchase price for cotton is still substantially lower than the world prices, they increased in USD equivalent by 70 percent from 2000 to 2007 while the world price increased only by 17 percent".

This estimate is wrong because during the kolkhoz period the state offered subsidies, subventions and periodically wrote off the debts of kolkhozes. Today, the farmers see no subsidies while the price of fuel, seeds, fertilizers, chemicals and services have increased dramatically. The debt of former kolkhozes became the burden of farmers.

This all led to situation when only small number of farmers got rich – those, who are linked to local administration: they have the opportunity to sell the crop at the purchase price, set for the first class cotton.

«The child labor is not widely used»

The problem of forced use of child labor is raised by the World Bank only in one section of the document, saying that "Social evaluation" (the evaluation of social aspects of the project outcome) did not reveal wide use of child labor in the oblasts, where consultations were conducted". WB does not deny the fact of seasonal hire of children but admits that the government of Uzbekistan makes efforts to eradicate this practice; at the same time, WB demands the farmers, receiving the loan, to comply with national legislation, limiting the use of child labor.

The use of child labor in Uzbekistan is limited by the law On guarantees of children’s rights (2008) that prohibits forced child labor. Uzbekistan also ratified the International Labor Organization convention #182 On elimination of worst forms of the child labor and #138 On minimum age.
Ezgulik sharply criticizes the WB statement, saying that "the use of child labor takes place only in some districts and children work voluntarily in order to help their parents": "This evidences that lack of unbiased and professional honesty of the "Social evaluation" authors, the World Bank document refers to", the Ezgulik report indicates.

Besides, the human rights advocates demanded to publish the list of farmers, receiving the WB loan, so that independent experts could make sure the child labor is not used by these farmers in compliance with WB requirements.

In the opinion of "Social evaluation" authors, referred by the World Bank, the schoolchildren are not used for production of cotton while there are no "worst forms of child labor" in the rural areas of Uzbekistan. "Social evaluation" affirms that 12-18 aged kids were not used in the farm enterprises during weeding, harvesting cotton and cotton stalks and kids were not attracted to clean up the irrigation and drain systems. "In some provinces, lacking the labor forces, the schoolchildren of 5th grade and higher picked the cotton. In other provinces, not lacking the labor forces, only the high school students were involved. In the areas with the surplus of the labor force the children were not attracted to pick the cotton. Women and schoolchildren believe they can make good money [on cotton], $7 per day, i.e. about $300 per month".

Nonetheless, in the opinion of Ezgulik, these statements "do not reflect real picture of using the child labor in the agricultural sector of Uzbekistan".

"Social evaluation" refers to UNICEF reports that have already been criticized and UNICEF admitted the mistakes in the report. However, the authors of the World Bank document preferred not to consider UNICEF recognitions.

"It is absolutely not true that children are not involved in the weeding – the human rights activists say. – The children in rural areas are gathered for weeding in May, before the end of the school year…The statement, saying that schoolchildren are not involved in the cotton-picking, is not true. Uzbekistan does not have provinces, lacking the labor force; nearly all oblasts have abundance of labor and many adults throughout the republic leave Uzbekistan in the search for job. It is also not true that kids earn $300 per month during the cotton-picking campaign. If it was true, the adults would stay home, not looking for job in other countries where at best

they make the same money…At best the underage cotton pickers can make $100, but this amount must distract the food expenses and repairs of school. In any case, the money, made by schoolchildren, cannot compensate the loss of two months that could be spent on education", Ezgulik notes.

Conclusions and recommendations

The social evaluation of WB project was conducted by the state Agency for agricultural restructuring on behalf of the government: in the opinion of Ezgulik, this explains why the authors of "Social evaluation" did not notice the fact that "major problem of the farmers is the systematic violation of their human and entrepreneurial rights by the state and local authorities" and why the problem of the child labor was presented as "insignificant".

Explaining and arguing its position on major questionable points of the World Bank, Ezgulik urges WB to one more time analyze the documents and projects, related to the agricultural sector and re-estimate the condition of reforms, position of farm enterprises and application of forced child labor. Ezgulik also urges to set partner relations with the representatives of Uzbek civil society and international organizations that fight for the cancellation of forced child labor in Uzbekistan. The human rights organization recommends lobbying the freedom of the farm enterprises from administrative dictate and demands Uzbekistan to run real reforms in agricultural sector and cancel the forced child labor.

"We hope – Ezgulik says – our constructive critics will be paid adequate attention and lead to open discussion and search of solution for set problems".

The full text of the report is available here in Document Word format.

Prepared by Mariya Yanovskaya. Ferghana international news agency