Agriculture in Kyrgyzstan is a significant sector of the economy. According to the CIA World Factbook, it comprises 35.3% of the total GDP and occupies 55% of the total labor force. Only 7.5% of the total land area is used for crop cultivation, but 44% of the land is used as pastures for livestock. Because of the many mountains of Kyrgyzstan, animal husbandry remains a significant part of the agricultural economy.
Among Kyrgyzstan's agricultural products are tobacco, cotton, potatoes, vegetables, grapes, fruits, and berries. As far as total production, the largest crop is assorted types of animal fodder to feed the livestock of the country. The second largest crop is winter wheat, followed by barley, corn, and rice.
Of these, the top products for export are cotton and tobacco. Meat is also exported, but in less significant quantities.
In addition to coniferous forests and nut-tree groves, the republic's mountainous terrain is also ideal for the cultivation of cotton, tobacco, various types of oil-bearing plants, vegetables, and fodder crops for sheep and cattle. The lower elevations are more amenable for the cultivation of potatoes, vines, and orchards. Mulberry trees in particular contribute to raising the silk worm and the production of fine silks.
Between 1991 and 1996, persuaded by foreign advisors, the Kyrgyz introduced radical changes into the management of their agriculture. The most daring of these was the dismantling of the entire system of kolkhoz and sovkhoz farms. They were replaced by a multi-ownership system in which the private sector plays a vital role. The initial results of this bold move have been disappointing to the Kyrgyz. The long-term effects, however, remain to be seen.
The physical characteristics of the country present a special challenge to agricultural development. Bounded by two mountain ranges, roughly one-third of the land area is considered unusable, 45 percent of the land area is classified as pasture, and just less than 10 percent is used to cultivate annual crops. In the mountainous north, wheat is the primary commercial crop grown on the 887,000 hectares of arable land in the region. The Ferghana Valley runs through the south of Kyrgyzstan, providing fertile soil for tobacco, cotton, fruit, and vegetables. However, the south has only 415,000 hectares of arable land (less than half of that in the north). And over one-half of the total population lives in the south, resulting in arable land per capita of only 0.19 hectares, compared with 0.53 hectares in the north.
Implementation of Land Reform Legislation
While reform legislation is in place in the Kyrgyz Republic, and about three-quarters of former collective farm households have now become private farmers, implementation of the reforms is not yet complete. Access to land is still a problem for a significant number of farmers. A majority of land disputes are with government officials, but it is these officials that adjudicate such disputes. Under customary law, clan leaders, elders, teachers, and other respected local figures function as advocates for villagers. But often they do not challenge officials because they have little access to laws or information about legal rights. Without local advocates who know the law and who demand that those with power respect private rights to land, farmers will find it difficult to exercise their rights to land.
Agriculture and Crop Production
In Kyrgyzstan 109 000 km2 are designated as agricultural land in the broadest sense, of which only 14 000 km2, 7% of the total land mass, are suitable for arable farming. Of this between 7 320 and 8 372 km2 are designated as being available for irrigated crop production. The lower figure is almost certainly closer to reality, as possibly as much as 1 000 km2 of land (both rain-fed and irrigated) has fallen out of cultivation in recent years, much of it permanently. This is particularly true of Chui, Issyk-kul and Naryn oblasts due to the break down of irrigation and drainage systems, lack of essential inputs, machinery and financial resources and in some places due to emigration, especially those of European descent. There is much greater population pressure on the land in the Ferghana oblasts and consequently less abandoned arable land. The total area of crops is estimated at about 12 200 km2 of which 7 300 km2 (59%) are irrigated and 4 900 (41%) are rain-fed. Little of the abandoned land currently has any significant value as pasturage and much of it has tended to revert to reed beds, or noxious, spiny weeds and scrub.
The main crops (see Table 1.1.) are wheat, barley, maize (for grain and silage), potatoes, melons, oilseed crops, vegetables of many kinds and fodder, mainly lucerne on the better irrigated land and sainfoin on the less well irrigated hill slopes. Sugar beet is an important cash crop in Chui oblast; cotton and tobacco in the southern 'Ferghana' oblasts. Since independence the need for local self sufficiency has given wheat production an importance it never had in Soviet times when the Republic was, to a great extent, fed from elsewhere.
Driven by local demand and the experience of the shortages that followed independence, the wheat acreage has increased greatly since the early 1990s. According to official data a total of 193 582 ha of wheat were grown in 1990; in 1999 the official figure was 482 717 ha (both irrigated and rain fed). This increase in area has taken place even as yields have fallen. The greatest increase has been at the expense of other irrigated arable crops, much of it replacing planted fodder crops (mainly lucerne and sainfoin) and barley, which previously helped sustain an intensive livestock industry. This concentration on wheat production has been at the expense of good agronomic practice and rotations. The area sown to wheat is currently showing signs of having stabilised and even to have contracted somewhat in favour of crops such as oil seeds. (For crop / area trends 1990 to 1999 see Tables 1.0 and 2.0) The total area of planted fodder crops, which are mainly accounted for by lucerne and sainfoin are recorded as having decreased from about 432 400 ha in 1990 to 231 500 ha in 1999. The balance being largely replaced by wheat.
The area sown to barley in 1990 is recorded as having been 266 399 ha, which by 1999 had fallen to 101 961 ha. Oil seed crops on the other hand have shown a remarkable increase from a total of 7 801 in 1990, mainly on irrigated land, to a total of 68 488 ha in 1990 almost equally split between irrigated crops of sunflower and (to a lesser extent) rape and mainly rain-fed crops of safflower. Also, reflecting the increasingly subsistence and peasant nature of Kyrgyz agriculture, the area cultivated for growing domestic survival crops has increased substantially; potatoes from 25 200 ha in 1990 to 64 000 ha in 1999, and vegetable crops from 20 600 in 1990 to 46 900 in 1999. This also reflects a growing small-farmer cash market for these crops in the towns and cities. Commercial, as opposed to back garden, vegetable production is often in the hands of certain ethnic groups; Uzbeks in the South, in the Ferghana oblasts; Dungans and Koreans in Chui. Cabbages (for the Siberian market) are grown in Issyk-kul and potatoes in Issyk-kul, Naryn and other highland areas of Osh and Talas and almost everywhere as an important kitchen garden, domestic, survival crop.
Sugar beet production, which is almost exclusively confined to the Chui oblast, and to a limited extent in Talas oblast, has increased over the last ten years, from a point where it had almost ceased in the mid 1980s due to serious nematode infestation, the result of poor rotation. In 1990 the area sown to sugar beet is recorded as being only 103 ha, while in 1999 it was 28 895 ha. The main incentive has been the highly lucrative local market for vodka. Though farmers who grow sugar beet may also have access to beet pulp for animal feed this does not appear to be well organised since the collapse of the state farming system. Previously the collectiveswhich grew sugar beet often also kept herds of milking cows or managed beef fattening units.
The past ten years has seen an over all decrease in maize production and a change in proportion between grain and silage production. In 1990 a total of 155 261 ha of land is recorded as having been planted to maize, of which 65 664 (42.3%) was for grain, and 89 597 ha (57.7%) was for silage. The data for 1999 shows a very reduced total of 81 560 ha planted in maize (a reduction of 73 701 ha) of which 61 009 ha (74.8%) was for grain, and 20 551 ha (25.2%) for silage.
All the main deciduous, temperate fruits grow well in Kyrgyzstan and the Tien Shan is a significant geographical centre of origin for many. The commercial orchards and vineyards of the previous collectives tend now to be poorly managed but every rural household has a few fruit trees and berry bushes in their gardens and dacha which are of great importance to household economies.