Dilfuza Kurolova, LLM Tashkent State University of Law, Master Student in Politics and Security at the OSCE Academy, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
How much does it matter what you eat and what you spend on your food? Do you count your calories and nutrition benefits of your meal? Rich or poor, these questions have never been asked in Uzbek families nor brought up on political agenda.
Uzbekistan has relatively low GDP per capita, which is $3,300 USD as for 2014[i]. This puts Uzbekistan on the list of the less developed countries together with other Central Asian states – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. One of the reasons is that Uzbekistan does not provide high income to its working class. Around 75% of low-income population lives in rural areas. While the government adopts preventive actions to fight against hunger and malnutrition without directly taking into account food shortage, Uzbekistan does not recognize food insecurity as an issue. Thus, current food crisis in the country is due to unresolved poverty level that occurred on the early stages of independence.
This paper argues that to fight food insecurity, the government shall adopt effective actions and policy on hunger elimination which include securitizing food issue on the national level, and distinguishing agriculture from food security policy.
What is Food Security?
The concept of food security is relatively new and hardly recognized in Uzbekistan. Often this concept reflects agricultural development rather than being used as part of human security agenda. However, this concept should be one of the key notions on the political agenda of Uzbekistan. One of the reasons is that globalization process in trade dictates conditions and standards of marketing, which challenge Uzbekistan in exporting and importing food stocks. Uzbekistan is not in favor of major changes in its trade policies, as country’s foreign policy is designed to securitize current political regime. Another reason is that constant demographic increase challenges the government to provide basic living, education and health guarantees for its population. An attempt to balance foreign and national interests directly influence adoption of the so-called “anti-hunger policy” giving the preference to internal interests over foreign ones.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) determines that state meets food security when there “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”[ii]Furthermore, there are three main compositions of the measurement if the state has food stability and can protect the population from food crisis: a) the domestic supply of food commodities, b) the domestic food utilization and c) food supply available for human consumption.
In this regard, the “[a]vailability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports”[iii] is essential for food security. On macro-economic level, Uzbekistan has slow GDP growth. Official figures indicate 7% growth in 2014 which in practice proves to be insufficient in relation to country’s growing 31 mln population. The same indicator showed 4-6% in 1995-1996 when the level of population and economic outputs were smaller. Agriculture shares around 25% of total GDP of the country, which makes the industry important sphere of the Uzbek economy, along with oil, gas and gold industries.
Agriculture sector was gradually concentrated around cotton production. As a result, there is little improvement in diversification of economy in this sector, what can be identified as the early state of the Dutch disease. The FAO reports that ratio of imported grain products has dramatically declined since 1996 for around 75%. At the same time, the export of food products increased respectively[iv]. This tendency signals that the state attempts to reach independence in food supply from third states and gain more economic benefits from food export. Meanwhile, the very tendency indicates that Uzbekistan might not have capacity to feed its 31mln population in a long-run.
Next aspect of the food security is consumption, which is availability of the family to purchase necessary daily nutrition calories. In this regard, the World Bank survey showed that: a) there is no single definition of consumption basket in Uzbekistan; b) the average income variability depends on the region (urban city and rural area); c) in spite of the geographical location, the average income is not high; d) while each household consists of 4-6 people; and e) food price is constantly increasing, what makes difficult for family purchase necessary daily calories.[v]
These indicators raise several issues. First, the consumption basket indicates the minimum wage of the person that fits his or her family. If the government creates the basket, minimum wage shall sharply increase, which in turn creates better living conditions. Second, promotion of a strong agricultural policy indicates that the government is aware of the problems with supply of the food stock and the need to raise national minimum wage. While Uzbek government includes food security policy into agricultural one, it undermines the significance of the food security sphere.
Is Agriculture Policy Equal to Food Security Policy?
On political level, there is no evidence that the Uzbek government considers food security issues within the state. In contrast, agricultural policy includes very narrow and specific aspects of food security, which can be observed within implemented programs and state strategic plans. For instance, as part of agricultural policy the government implemented sharp increase of local farmers` support in 2002 in the framework of the land reforms[vi]. The reform included allocation of the land only to small legal entities or coalition of farmers for the purpose of cultivation of vegetables and grains, excluding the cultivation of national products such as cotton, rice and sugarcane.
The next stage of political attention to agriculture sphere came with adoption of the national welfare improvement strategy for 2013-2015 in 2013. The strategy included such aspects as a) crops cultivation; b) financial assistance to farmers and small enterprises in agriculture sector; and c) improvement of living conditions. However, this strategy lacks providing clear measures toward food security, such as food export and import, food supply and consumption, and income issues.
Moreover, the highest attention to agriculture strategy was observed in the beginning of 2015, when the head of the state proclaimed new priorities for 2015 and further. The program included such issues as a) strengthen the role of civil society; b) special financial and technical assistance of farmers, especially from rural areas that they be able to fit the region and to be competitive in national market; c) financial reforms and government reforms that gives more freedom of trade, especially food export and import; and d) legal reforms, including special laws on environment protection. While this program is more devoted to economic and political reform, it indirectly improves food security in Uzbekistan. At the same time, this strategic plan is not a food policy. This means that the state still does not recognize the concept of food security as a separate issue on the human security agenda.
The above brief discussion of the topic of food security and understanding of the concept in Uzbekistan highlighted the following:
- Uzbekistan includes food security as part of agriculture development and improvement of the living conditions of the population;
- Implemented reforms and new policies demonstrate that agriculture reforms shall be separated from food security policy that covers wide aspects of people`s life and particular segments of the state economy.
Thus, food security concept is not applied in the Uzbek realm as it should be. The government uses agriculture sphere as the general framework to include food security and economic development into one basket. Finally, introduction of the food security discussion on political agenda would lead to a number of the considerable reforms, such as increasing minimum national wage and reconsideration of the food export-import policies.
[i]Index Mundi: GDP per capita ranking. <http://www.indexmundi.com/g/r.aspx?t=0&v=67&l=en> (accessed February 20, 2015)
[iii]Musaev, Dosbergen, Yakhshilikov, Yorbol, and Yusupov, Kakhramon. 2010. Food Security In Uzbekistan. Tashkent: Mega Basim, 31.
[vi]The GCARD blog. 2012. “Uzbekistan case study: Highlighting the Importance of Small Land Holders in Post-Soviet Central Asia.” <https://gcardblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/uzbekistan-case-study-highlighting-the-importance-of-small-land-holders-in-post-soviet-central-asia/> (accessed February 25, 2015)
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