Social capital Institutions

Posted December 1996

Pastoral Livestock Development in Central Asia

by Stephan Baas
Rural Development Officer
Rural Institutions and Participation Service (SDAR)
FAO Rural Development Division

Historical background

Central Asian nations have a rich heritage of nomadic civilization. Traditional forms of nomadic pastoralism were widely practised in Buryat, Kazakstan, Kalmyk and Kyrgyzstan up until the 1930s and in Mongolia up to the 1960s. Arid to semi-arid climatic conditions favoured nomadism. Production was based on common property systems and intensive group interaction (e.g. risk sharing, high mobility, herd diversification and labour division). Mobility patterns in Central Asia were determined by topography, and long distance horizontal and vertical movements (transhumance) were common. The importance of nomadic production systems is underlined by the example of Kazakstan, where until the 1930s, nine of 119 administrative districts were completely nomadic, 85 districts were semi-nomadic, and only in 25 districts settled population dominated.

However, during the 1930 directions of agricultural development changed in most Central Asian countries, following the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. Mass collectivization took place and the economic systems became based on public (state) and collective ownership of productive resources, including all industrial plants, land and the majority of the livestock population. Control of all property and production was held by the state "for the mutual benefit of the people". Large-scale agricultural farms were managed according to centrally planning procedures, and products were delivered to the state according to state planning and production targets. Members of collective farms and employees of state farms were allowed private ownership of only have a very restricted number of animals. Products gathered on a private basis were usually used for household consumption. During the collectivization process, nomadic pastoralists were forcibly transferred to permanent settlement, which brought traditional nomadism to the end. In only five years, for instance - from 1930 to 1935 - sedentarization of nomads in Kazakstan reached 100%.

The development in agricultural sectors in Central Asia lead to semi-nomadic types of production, characterized by the fact that during winter and spring animals graze in a fixed grassland where houses, shelters and water points are provided, while during summer and autumn animals graze in different pastures. Parts of the pastoral households are settled somewhere on their leased pastures and may use their own grass land with year rotation.

Recent trends in pastoral development

The growing economic difficulties of the USSR and its ultimate break up have thrown the Central Asian countries into deep economic crises. The disintegration of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) - with its trade agreements, the collapse of the convertible rouble and the end of former USSR financial subsidies - exposed the vulnerability of the economies to external shocks. Prices and inflation increased dramatically. All Central Asian countries began the transition from a centrally planned economy to a free market society. Since then, the agricultural sectors in the countries have undergone substantial changes through privatization, land reforms, price liberation, and decentralization of decision making. The system of collective livestock production ceased to function and pastoral livestock production in most of the countries has been modified to adjust structural and organisational aspects to basic principles of the market economy. Demand and supply have become a major indicator for regulation of the production strategy and the behaviour of all types of producers.

However, the importance of the livestock industry - and, in particular, pastoral livestock as a traditional economic sector of the national economy of the Central Asian countries - remained as high as before. It still offers major sources for living and employment in rural areas, and livestock provides the most important source for income generation.

In order to form a basis of the market economies, specific attention was paid to the support of private sectors through privatisation of property owned by collective and state farms: mainly, livestock, stockyards, shelters, agricultural machines and houses. The principles and speed of agricultural privatisation, however, varied in the various countries. As a result, the countries are at present in quite different stages of transition towards a market economy. Mongolia, for instance, has been one of the most rapidly privatising of all former centrally planned economies, having begun to privatise livestock in 1991, and achieving almost full private ownership of livestock by 1993. Almost all former state and collective farms have now been restructured or broken-up into smaller economic entities.

In Kyrgyzstan, on the other hand, the process of land and agrarian reform began more recently, but has also progressed quite rapidly. About 57% of total livestock in the country were by 1994 privately owned, and in some provinces most collective farms have been restructured as cooperatives or associations of peasant enterprises. A presidential decree issued early in 1994 permits a limited market in arable and hay land and urges that agrarian reforms to press ahead.

In the much larger Kazakstan, however, where agriculture is less significant in the overall economy, reform of pastoral livestock husbandry has been slower: only around 800 of the estimated 4,500 state and collective farms have been nominally decollectivised. Around 30 per cent of animals have passed into private ownership, and as yet no plans have been announced with regard to agricultural land reform.

Economic liberalisation over the last four years has led to changes in the quantitative characteristics of livestock production, often in a non-equitable manner. Generally, for the last two to three years, the size of national herd of the Central Asian countries has remained constant except in Buryat and Kyrgyzstan, which have seen a decline in the national herd. This decline is mainly connected with a worsened service infrastructure. Buryat's national livestock statistics shows that for the years from the start of liberalisation of livestock industry, the number of survivals per 100 breeding females has dropped by 20-30%.

Despite such failures following the economic liberalisation, the livestock sector still plays a key role in food and raw supply for national light industries and export earnings. For instance, the share of livestock sector in gross agricultural product in 1993 was 76,7% in Mongolia, 74.5 % in Kalmyk, 74.2% in Buryat, and 39.6% in Inner Mongolia.

Regarding rural employment, in Mongolia, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan there is a temporary increase in pastoral population in conjunction with the redistribution of public livestock to private ownership. An important factor for this was that administrative workers of former collective and state farms, and retired members benefited also. Animals were distributed in relation to their former employment in the collectives. Thus, there has been an "artificial" increase in the numbers of livestock keepers and herding population. On the other hand, in countries such as Inner Mongolia and Kalmyk, where cropping is developed, the pastoral population size is decreasing.

Another important issue connected to employment is the emergence of absentee herding. Many inhabitants living in centralised settlements leave their animals with their relatives or friends to look after, based on agreed payment or exchange. This is leading to a shortage of labour in herding communities in peak times, such as during lambing, milking and shearing. Also, the increase in herd size that has been occurred in recent years has created a need of additional labour be treated.

Summarising the above, one can say that today's livestock production in Central Asian countries is dominated - or nearly dominated - by private ownership. It also became less specialised in terms of herd composition. These changes ultimately cause changes in labour demand and patterns of labour division, making it more free and self-oriented. It seems that type of labour performed by different members of the family has also changed. The labour load of woman has increased, for example, in Mongolia because of the need to process milk and milk products in summer and to care for newborn animals. Before these tasks were organized by specific labour groups. Children's work is common during peak work periods.

The above developments have had noticeable impact on the living conditions of pastoral households. In general, the economic restructuring process taking place in these countries has led to a fall in the living standards of the population, including herding families. As a result of the economic crisis, the sudden end of state subsidies, the gradual disintegration of state and the former types of collective farms (including their service and social network functions) and continuing production declines, the conditions of the population - especially that of the vulnerable groups - have dramatically deteriorated and poverty and unemployment have become acute social problems. Herders' incomes are lower than in other branches of the economy. Major reasons for that are:

Although animals and means of production (and, to a very limited degree, also land) were distributed between former cooperative members, the collapse of former services structures deprived producers of essential support - particularly in breeding, veterinary and marketing services. In several cases, for instance, the distribution of livestock to different owners caused a partial break down of livestock breeding, efficient health services and fodder supply, resulting in worsening of the overall quality of livestock.

Owing to lack of appropriate services and cash, many households have increased their self-reliance activities. Home consumption of livestock products, especially slaughtering animals for meat, has increased. Chronic cash deficiency, and declining term of trade embodied in low prices offering by buyers and low purchase power of rural people, forces them to keep more animals as a terms for bartering and as a source of income-in-kind. The decline in purchase of livestock products by local processing enterprises has forced the herders to use more meat for household consumption and to compete on limited local markets.

Private sector institutions that were created to replace the pastoral collectives remain weak. In this situation, the roles of traditional herding groups and herders organizations are reviving. Here and there, they are taking responsibilities but have yet to prove themselves strong and flexible enough to react to new challenges. Without institutional support, their chances of succeeding seems limited. Under the new circumstances, the future performance of the pastoral subsector is severely threatened.

Key issues in pastoral development in Central Asia

The following key issues of the economic transition in the pastoral sector are common features throughout Central Asia: There is a general need to generate new, timely and appropriate information on which to base new policies for economic liberalisation. There is a need also for each country to learn from the experience of the others, through expanded scientific collaboration in pastoral husbandry during the economic transition.

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