Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 101

Official statistical data about Turkmenistan’s agricultural sector in 2000 point to strong growth in agriculture last year. But they also indicate that Ashagabat has fudged the official numbers, and underscore the poor credibility of Ashgabat’s official economic data in general. This suggests that there may have been considerably less to the sterling economic performance reported for Turkmenistan in 2000 than meets the eye.

According to data released by Turmenistan’s Statistical Institute, agricultural production grew 17 percent in 2000, following the 26-percent output growth recorded in 1999. Agriculture’s performance would therefore seem to be an important part of the 17.6-percent overall GDP growth–the highest in the CIS–Ashgabat reported for last year. This is because agriculture is one of the largest parts of Turkmenistan’s economy, second only to the energy sector. Agriculture’s strong reported growth performance is apparent in the output of animal products, which was reported up 15 percent. Production of meat, milk and eggs was reported up 23 percent, 13 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

But crop production–particularly the cultivation of cotton and wheat–accounts for about half of Turkmenistan’s agricultural output. While the wheat harvest was reported up 13 percent last year, a 21-percent decline in cotton output was officially registered in 2000. This huge drop in cotton production is inconsistent with both the 18-percent growth in overall crop output reported last year, and the 17-percent growth in overall agricultural output reported by the Statistical Institute.

Moreover, informed sources in Ashgabat say that the true cotton output figure for 2000 may only be half the reported total of 1.03 million tons. Cotton yields in many parts of the country fell during the 1990s due to planting on marginal soil, as well as shortages of machinery, fertilizers, seed and fuel. Fuel shortages have been a particular problem in the eastern part of the country, as Turkmenistan’s price controls on fuels result in large-scale cross-border fuel smuggling into Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan’s agricultural problems are further aggravated by Ashgabat’s preference for devoting increasing amounts of farmland to grain cultivation at the expense of cotton. According to some sources, each hectare of grain sown incurs a loss of up to US$32 due to inefficient farming methods, while cotton is profitable. Given these problems, President Saparmurat Niyazov’s decision last year to sack numerous officials in the agriculture ministry for incompetence should not come as a surprise (Sotsial’no-Ekonomicheskoye Polozheniye Turkmenistana za 2000 god, January 2001; Sotsial’no-Ekonomicheskoye Polozheniye Turkmenistana za 1999 god, January 2000).