Agriculture: private and state problems

For the second year in a row President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has been expressing discontent with the development of the agro-industrial sector, which is fully controlled by the state. Even land tenants are urged to grow only those crops which are needed by the authorities. A permanent author of Chronicles of Turkmenistan Ata Garlayev in great detail tells about the work and income of farm land tenants.

Let us start with examples which illustrate the income of Turkmenistan's farmers.

A farmer from Tejen etrap, who leases 2 hectares of land plots, in 2017 harvested 6 tons of grain, which is purchased at 40 tenge per kilo. In other words, his total annual income amounts to 2400 manats. After deducting expenditures for irrigation, seeds, fertilizers, rental of plow and combine harvesters, the amount left drops down to 1200 manats. It should be mentioned though that after grinding the grain the farmer can leave hay to feed the cattle.

When converted into dollars, 1200 manats equal $343 using the official rate of 3,5 manats per dollar, or $66,7 at the black market rate, which as of 16 July was 18 manats per dollar. Hereinafter we will quote only the unofficial rate as it is impossible to convert cash using the official exchange rate in Turkmenistan.

In 2016 the aforementioned tenant farmer planted cotton on the plot of land of the same space where he had harvested 5,5 tons of crops which were subsequently handed out to the state at 1040 manats per ton to generate the revenue of 5720 manats with 3500 manats ($200) left after all deductions.

A household made up of 3 people grows wheat on the land plot of 5 hectares in Farab etrap. This year their net profit amounted to 3700 manats. Last year they grew cotton and earned 8500 manats ($472).

At the same time, one should realize that the crop yield and, eventually, profit is affected by a multitude of factors, including the quality of leased land, weather conditions, price and availability of machinery to be rented out etc.

The head of the daikhan association makes a decision as to what crops to grow on a particular plot of land. However, with the help of a bribe a favourable decision can be made to grow a more profitable crop on a small plot of land.

All these people keep cattle, sheep and goats, hens and at their land plots of 1,600 square meters they grow vegetables, which are subsequently sold at the markets. Only the opportunity to get some cash for their produce helps them to make ends meet. Apart from the government order, tenant farmers used to grow melons, watermelons and vegetables for their personal needs on the periphery of the land plot, but they were prohibited to do so.

When asked why they do not lease out a larger plot of land, the farmers respond that they do not have enough time to handle even the workload they have and moreover, it is not profitable to be a farmer. It is a very time-consuming and labour intensive activity and the profit they generate is tiny.

However, if needed one can lease additional hectares of land without any problems. It is believed that the plots of lands have already been fully distributed between daikhan associations and there is no available land. However, a plot of land can be found at a fee. Prices range depending on the quality of land and proximity of water sources. The rental system is similar to the one used for garden plots. The land use agreement is concluded between the allotment holders' association and a partner. After finding a potential customer and receiving a payment, the agreement is re-registered to a new participant of the allotment holders' association.

The majority of daikhans are trying to find additional jobs to be able to get by. You are lucky if there is a cotton gin plant, rice and flour mills, schools and kindergartens on the territory of the etrap. In this case they can hire farm servants to work on their fields. If there are no employment opportunities, people head to large cities or abroad in search of jobs. At such extortionate state-established rates for procuring products and services and under a constant price hike for groceries and merchandise, which has been recorded in recent years, it has become absolutely unprofitable to grow cotton and wheat.

Some time in winter in Turkmenbashi etrap I met a farmer from Dashoguz velayat who has a land plot of 100 hectares. It would have never occurred to me that he is a farmer. He looks like a homeless person with an open and toothless smile of a hard worker over 50 y.o. I paid attention to his US-made ankle boots of a bigger size. His old vehicle was under repair and he was walking along the road. The man said that he and his numerous family members live poorly. When asked if it is worth doing farming, he definitely said no. Yet, there is no other choice for him.

As regards the total volume of harvested crops, nobody can quote specific numbers. It is surprising that almost all executives of etraps have undocumented land plots where more crops are grown. This can serve as a reserve in case the state plan is not fulfilled.

Moreover, foreign companies procuring cotton say that its quality is degrading. The reason is that no selective breeding is underway.

Source: Chronicles of Turkmenistan