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Economy, agriculture and food security
In 2010, Uzbekistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) was US$38 982 million of which the agriculture sector accounted for 20 percent.
In 2011, total economically active population was 12.9 million, or 47 percent of the total population. The economically active population in agriculture is an estimated 2.7 million (21 percent of the total active population) of which 43 percent is female.
Cotton, called ‘white gold’, was the dominant crop within Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector during the Soviet period. Although cotton had been grown in the region for hundreds of years, the crop’s expansion in the twentieth century was made possible by two main factors: expansion of irrigated area and Soviet central planning. Irrigation allowed for increased crop production and central planning imposed cotton as the major crop. In exchange for cotton production, central planning provided Uzbekistan with water, energy and food from elsewhere in the integrated national system.
Uzbekistan was the major cotton-growing region in the USSR, accounting for 61 percent of total production. Since the disintegration of the USSR, and Uzbekistan independence in 1991, agricultural policy has been subject to both inertia and change. On the one hand, the government has maintained significant aspects of the central planning system. The state still controls the area and quantity of cotton produced, as well as the purchase prices. In the mid-1990s, the country was the fourth largest producer of cotton in the world and the third largest cotton exporter. Cotton, with vegetables and fruits are the country’s principal exports.
On the other hand, the government has allowed a shift towards increased farmer control of many aspects of production, in particular those related to land and water management. At the same time, the country has been forced to develop new trading relationships with other former Soviet states and the rest of the world, which has led to the mandated expansion of the wheat area to meet local food needs. The government mandated increase of wheat production, means the wheat growing areas are larger and the cotton-growing area smaller, because the wheat and cotton-growing season overlap.
The result has been an expansion of the winter wheat area from 620 000 ha in 1991 to 750 000 ha in 1996 with a similar decline in the cotton area. Wheat production increased substantially, from 1 million tonnes in 1991 to 5.2 million tonnes in 2004, and Uzbekistan has become a wheat exporter of some 500 000 tonnes annually (Abdullaev et al., 2009). The leading export goods and their share in exports are cotton-lint (11 percent), energy resources (25 percent), services (9 percent), non-ferrous and ferrous metals (7 percent), machinery and equipment (6 percent), chemical products (5 percent), food products (10 percent), other (28 percent).