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Civil Society and Social Movements Programme Paper 13: Agricultural Restructuring and Trends in Rural Inequalities in Central Asia: A Socio-Statistical Survey

12 May 2005

  • Author(s): Max Spoor


The agricultural and rural sector is of fundamental importance in the former Soviet Central Asian states. It is not only a crucial sector to the states’ national economies, but is also important in providing employment, basic livelihood and social security. Deterioration of this sector and its social fabric can undermine civil society development, lead to social instability and endanger sustainable economic development.

To understand the differences and similarities in agricultural reform paths within Central Asia, the paper describes the initial conditions. On the eve of their independence, Central Asian countries were characterized by a low level of industrialization, high population density, a pre-dominantly rural population and a higher degree of poverty than elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. On the positive side, important social improvements had been realized under Soviet rule. The development of a rural social infrastructure not only eradicated rural illiteracy and introduced health care, but also provided rural dwellers with salaried jobs.

There is no simple correlation between the speed of land reform and the performance of the agricultural sector. Land reform and private farm formation can only stimulate private initiative and output when combined with a transformation of the state order system. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, private farm performance is hampered by obligatory deliveries to the state and centralized input channels. On the other hand, a rapid and chaotic liberalization of markets, without the emergence of competitive marketing systems and necessary institutions—as in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan—initially led to collapse of the markets.

With respect to the future transition and development agenda, the rural sector should become a priority, instead of the stepchild, of reform. Furthermore, reform should not be guided by efficiency alone, but also take equity into account. Institution building is important (for example, microcredit systems) and, whenever possible, collective structures should be transformed into service cooperatives rather than destroyed. Finally, new civil society organizations are urgently needed to build a market economy, and this requires a more open policy from governments.

Max Spoor is associate professor of transition economics and coordinator of the Centre for the Study of Transition and Development (CESTRAD) at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Netherlands.

Order CSSMPP 13 from UNRISD (US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).