Adopting marketing standards in Uzbekistan to aid agricultural exports, say experts

Date: 20.11.2013.

Uzbekistan is well-known for luscious fruits like this local pomegranate variety. Photo by Mikhail Djavakyantc.

Fruit and vegetable production is an important source of income for small farmers in Uzbekistan. Local growers supply fruits and vegetables to the domestic markets and abroad. Agricultural produce is a major export earner. So the government pays attention to the industry and increases areas for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. As of 1 January 2013, the total orchard area was estimated at 250,300 ha, and that of vineyards at 127,000 ha. On average, farmers collected 10.47 t/ha of fruits, and 10.86 t/ha of grapes. By some estimates, gross production of fruits stood at 2,052,000 tons, and of grapes at 1,204,600 tons. The government is projecting an increase of 30 per cent in fruit and vegetable production by 2015.

Intensive gardening is gaining momentum too. A total of 8,300 ha of areas were allocated for intensive orchards in 2013. International donor, research and development organizations are also supporting this. For example, a project on development and management of intensive orchards is being implemented in Uzbekistan by the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ). The project operates intensive orchards at three sites.

These efforts help to ensure there are enough fruits and vegetables on the local markets. But increasing agricultural exports could boost farmers' incomes further and benefit the economy as a whole. Doing that, however, requires that better marketing and other standards are in place, and farmers grow agricultural produce with qualities specifically suited to packaging, processing and long-haul transport.

These and other issues were at the centre of discussions at a scientific conference 'Expansion of market-oriented produce in horticulture, olericulture, beekeeping and floriculture' on 20 November 2013 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Over 100 national and international experts, farmers, scientists and business people attended the event, organized by the Trade and Industry Chamber of Uzbekistan, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), AVRDC - the World Vegetable Center and other organizations.

One of the issues on the table was lack of procedures to ensure quality of agricultural produce. Experts point to inconsistencies between marketing standards in Uzbekistan and other countries, which makes it difficult to export agricultural produce. There is also a need for improved and consistent standards in agricultural production in Uzbekistan.

Deputy director of the Uzbek Research Institute for Horticulture, Viticulture and Wine, Dr Ravshan Abdullaev, says agricultural produce should be marketable and appealing to customers, which will help local producers to compete with imported varieties in the first place. This opinion is also shared by Dr Rafik Khakimov, director of the Uzbek Research Institute of Vegetables, Melon Crops and Potato. He argues that increasing exports calls for a number of measures. He believes it is necessary to grow high-quality varieties of fruits, which should be appealing to customers, be of standard shape, size and weight, and suited to long-haul transport. Agricultural produce for exports should also be packaged according to international standards. As market forces dictate product qualities, it is also necessary to strengthen marketing research services to study what standards and requirements there are for vegetables and melon crops, he adds. Honey production is one area where proper regulation could help. Participants voiced concern over honey products sold at local markets. They called for new legislation to regulate the sale of honey products. Participants also agreed on the need to work out international standards and train farmers and producers to ensure high quality of products.

Another way to boost exports and increase competitiveness of local agricultural produce, experts believe, is to introduce new varieties. In addition to being highly marketable, new varieties, Dr Abdullaev argues, should also be resistant to cold, heat, drought and pests, and produce high yields. Dr Khakimov echoes his colleague's opinion, but thinks more greenhouses also need to be built and effectively used. Non-traditional crops should also be introduced, argues Dr Ravza Mavlyanova, AVRDC - the World Vegetable Center coordinator for Central Asia and the Caucasus. She says that new varieties of legumes like vegetable soybean, mung bean and yard-long bean, which increase soil fertility and are good for crop rotation, and the Jerusalem artichoke (or topinambour) are already being taken up by farmers in Uzbekistan. What is good, these varieties are early-maturing and well adapted to the country's soil and climatic conditions. They also do well on salt-affected soils and even help to reduce soil salinity and improve soil structure.

Participants agreed that increasing exports of tinned fruit and vegetable is also important. Dried fruit can also be easily packaged and transported to international markets. But experts point out that the food processing industry has to grow fast to cope with increasing demand. Local companies should also introduce advanced innovative processing technologies to catch up. More cold storage facilities would also help. According to Mr Mumin Isamiddinov, an expert with a USAID AgLinks Plus project, there is a need for additional cold storage capacity of 1 million tons in Uzbekistan to ensure consistent supplies of agricultural produce throughout the year. All this shows that there are opportunities for growth. More government incentives, however, could facilitate the process. Sustainable livelihoods of small farmers and households, after all, is all rural areas need.

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