Since independence, Turkmenistan's agricultural policy has emphasized grain production in order to increase self-sufficiency in the face of a sharp decline in trade among the former Soviet republics. A 50 percent increase in the grain harvest in 1992 was followed by a rise of 70 percent in 1993, despite unfavorable climatic conditions. Production of vegetables declined in 1992 to 13 percent below the 1991 level, whereas that of potatoes rose by 24 percent. High-quality melons are grown in the lower and middle reaches of the Amu Darya and in the Tejen and Murgap oases. In addition to these crops, subtropical fruits and nuts, especially pomegranates, almonds, figs, and olives, are grown in the Ertek and Sumbar valleys.
Under the prevailing climatic conditions, irrigation is a necessary input for agriculture and has been developed extensively throughout Turkmenistan. Irrigation management is divided between the Ministry of Irrigation, which is responsible for operation and maintenance along the Garagum Canal and for interrepublic water management, and the Irrigation Institute, which designs, evaluates, and builds new projects. State farms and collective farms are responsible for operation and maintenance on their own farms, but they have no other autonomy. Because only 55 percent of the water delivered to the fields actually reaches the crops, an average of twelve cubic meters of water is expended annually per hectare of cotton.
Turkmenistan inherited the system of state and collective farms from the Soviet Union, with its command structure of production quotas, fixed procurement prices, and soft budget constraints. The state still controls marketing and distribution of agricultural produce through the Ministry of Trade in urban areas and the Cooperative Alliance in rural locales; the Ministry of Agriculture's Commercial Center has a monopoly on cotton exports. Turkmenistan is highly dependent upon external sources for its agricultural inputs, the price of which has escalated more that those for agricultural products since independence.
In 1991 field and orchard crops accounted for 70.4 percent of the value of agricultural sales prices (computed in 1983 prices), while livestock raising accounted for the remaining 29.6 percent (see table 18, Appendix). Almost half the cultivated land was under cotton, and 45 percent of the land under grains and fodder crops. Livestock raising centered on sheep, especially for the production of Karakul wool. Whereas production of meat and milk rose substantially in the 1986-91 period (increases of 14,000 and 110,000 tons, respectively), actual production in 1991 of 100,000 tons of meat and 458,000 tons of milk represented a decrease from 1990. Production of meat in 1992 declined 21 percent from that of 1991. Fishing, bee-keeping, and silk-rendering occupy small areas of the agricultural sector.
In accordance with the Soviet policy of delegating the Central Asian republics as the nation's cotton belt, the area under cotton climbed rapidly from 150,400 hectares in 1940 to 222,000 hectares in 1960, 508,000 hectares in 1980, and 602,000 hectares in 1991. Because independence brought fuel and spare-parts shortages, the cotton harvest declined in the first half of the 1990s, however.
Industrial inputs for cotton production such as harvesters, sowing machines, mechanized irrigation equipment, fertilizer, pesticides, and defoliants have become less available to cotton farms in Turkmenistan because the other former Soviet republics, which were the chief suppliers of such items, raised their prices sharply in the first years of independence.
In 1983 Turkmenistan had an irrigated area of 1,054,000 hectares. Its most developed systems are along the middle and lower course of the Amu Darya and in the Murgap Basin. The Garagum Canal, which flows 1,100 kilometers with a capacity of 500 cubic meters per second, accounts for almost all irrigation in Ahal and Balkan provinces along the northern reaches of the Kopetdag Range. The canal also supplies additional water to the Murgap oasis in southeastern Turkmenistan. The main canal was built in sections between 1959 and 1976, initially providing irrigation for about 500,000 hectares. Plans call for construction to continue until the canal reaches a length of 1,435 kilometers and a carrying capacity of 1,000 cubic meters per second, enabling it to irrigate 1,000,000 hectares.
As a result of the construction of irrigation structures, and especially of the Garagum Canal, the hydrological balance of the republic has changed, with more water in the canals and adjacent areas and less in the rivers and the Aral Sea. The largest of the republic's eleven reservoirs are the Sary Yazy on the Murgap River, which occupies forty-six square kilometers of surface and has a capacity of 239 million cubic meters, and the Hawuz Khan on the Garagum Canal, which occupies ninety square kilometers of surface and has a capacity of 460 million cubic meters.
For most Turkmen farmers, cotton is the most important source of income, although cotton's potential contribution to the republic's economy was not approached in the Soviet period. Experts predict that by the year 2000, Turkmenistan will process one-third of its raw cotton output in textile mills located within the republic, substantially raising the rate achieved in the Soviet and early post-Soviet periods. In 1993, the state's procurement prices were raised significantly for high-grade raw seeded cotton. State planners envision selling 70 percent of the crop to customers outside the CIS.
At a rate of 300 kilograms per citizen, Turkmenistan produces more cotton per capita than any other country in the world. Among the Soviet republics, Turkmenistan was second only to Uzbekistan in cotton production. In 1983 Turkmenistan contributed 12.7 percent of the cotton produced in the Soviet Union. Four of the republic's five provinces are considered to be "cotton provinces": Ahal, Mary, Chärjew, and Dashhowuz. Convinced that cotton is its most marketable product, the post-Soviet government is committed to maintaining previous levels of cotton production and area under cultivation.
Instead of restructuring the agricultural economy, the government's "New Countryside" policy envisions only limited privatization of agricultural enterprises and expansion of grain production to reduce dependence on imports. The development of transportation is critical to agricultural reform in Turkmenistan.
Structure of the Agriculture Sector
You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:
Agriculture in Turkmenistan - Wikipedia
Turkmenistan Country Studies index
Country Studies main page