POLICY DEBATE IN UZBEKISTAN.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 207

A proposed agricultural privatization plan, initiated by Uzbekistan’s Cabinet of Ministers, has undergone some criticism in the media this past week. In October, the Cabinet established a Republican Commission, chaired by Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov, to study economic reform measures. The commission outlined a proposal that, if implemented, will transfer agricultural production to the private sector. This policy will not apply to cotton and grain export crops, which will remain state-controlled. Nevertheless, the government’s action could mean an end to the standard policy of leasing land to farmers. The immediate goal will be to establish a mechanism for looking at the legal, economic, and social ramifications of the policy. Specific ministries will be in charge of these issues and will present their findings at a later date. (Pravda vostoka, October 15)

On November 1, however, two agricultural specialists called the proposed measures "unwise." They claimed that Uzbekistan is unprepared for private ownership of land, that the concept itself is alien to the country, and that it is simply bad economics. The two specialists — one of whom serves on the Commission for Deepening Economic Reforms in Agriculture and the other in the Statistics Ministry — argue that privatization will only hinder the rational and optimal use of land, and will also circumvent ecological considerations. They propose, instead, that land be leased on a long-term — or even on a hereditary — basis, and that protective measures be instituted for farmers. This approach, they say, will ensure that the state receives a proper return from the land and that farmers are provided with a stable environment in which to work. (Pravda vostoka, November 1)

The debate over agricultural land comes at a critical time. Agricultural production looks set to fall short of 1997 goals, while charges of mismanagement in the agricultural sector are being voiced. Meanwhile, the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Jumaniyozov Marks, stepped down on October 28, and his successor, Deputy Prime Minister Azimjon Muhiddimov, has already called for policy changes. The privatization debate could prove to be one catalyst for such change, and partial privatization is one likely result — although its parameters need still to be determined. Until now, privatization in Uzbekistan has been limited to the commercial sector and has occurred, to some degree, in small-scale industry. The debate now unfolding is an indication of how important the next step in privatization policy is to the government’s broader economic reform plans.

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