Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Akylbek Jumaliev, discusses his ministry’s goals for the agriculture sector.
European Times: How important is the agriculture sector to Kyrgyzstan’s economy?
Akylbek Jumaliev: After gold-mining, agriculture is our leading sector, and it has tremendous growth potential. Kyrgyzstan has around 9,000 hectares of arable land on which farmers produce crops, wine, fruit (such as apricots), cattle for beef and milk products, sheep and other livestock. One problem the sector faces is that around 1,000 of our farms are very small, with low yields and high production costs. This makes our agricultural products less competitive. We are importing beef and pork from China, for example, and Kazakhstan produces grain more cheaply than we can. Our new strategy, as a small country, is to focus on quality rather than quantity, for example by expanding our production of organic agricultural products. Kyrgyzstan has clean water, high-quality mountain pasture and unspoiled land. Kyrgyzstan beef is already very popular in Kazakhstan because of its high quality.
European Times: How does your ministry help farmers?
Akylbek Jumaliev: The Ministry of Agriculture oversees standards, and one of our current priorities is to align our standards of agricultural products with international standards, particularly as Kyrgyzstan is about to join the Customs Union. We are seeking investor support to build up the facilities and human resources to help us meet global standards. We need laboratories as well as trained staff, and we are looking for financial and technological assistance for this.
European Times: What kind of support have you already received from international organisations?
Akylbek Jumaliev: The World Bank and other global organisations have provided important assistance in our drive to control animal diseases, for example foot-and-mouth disease. We know that controlling livestock diseases is crucial for us if we want to step up our agricultural exports. We still need to upgrade our testing facilities, veterinary services and laboratories, and for that we need international support.
European Times: What do you think Kyrgyzstan needs to do to attract more international investment in agriculture?
Akylbek Jumaliev: We need to improve Kyrgyzstan’s global image through promoting stability and continuing to fight corruption, and we need to offer more incentives for investors. Several organisations involved in the agriculture sector, for example professional associations for crop production and for meat processing, are working together to help upgrade the sector overall and make it more investor-friendly. The government organised an investment forum on agriculture and food processing, held in September this year, in which we highlighted the advantages of Kyrgyzstan’s agriculture sector. We need to make these advantages better known to global investors.
European Times: What are some major recent foreign-investment projects in the agriculture sector?
Akylbek Jumaliev: A Spanish investor has launched a huge project that focuses on improving the quality of pastures, animal health and training programmes in the agriculture sector. We also have a project to upgrade veterinary services, including new refrigeration systems, new drugs for veterinary treatments, facilities for genetic studies of animals, and more. Some of our projects are being funded through a €77.7 million (US$100 million) loan we received from the Turkish government, including a new irrigation system in southern Kyrgyzstan. Once this system is operational, we expect farmers to move to that area and begin cultivation and livestock production. We believe this area will turn into a major agricultural production centre. We have outsourced to private companies the job of cleaning the new irrigation channels. Another project we have begun is to set up 300 artificial-insemination plants to improve the quality of our livestock.
European Times: Kyrgyzstan is already involved in regional trade of agricultural products. Are you targeting markets in the EU as well?
Akylbek Jumaliev: We have well-established agricultural exports to Turkey, mainly of beef, and we are already working with several Turkish companies which supply equipment and services to our farmers. Turkish investors have opened meat-processing plants here. We are definitely looking to expand and develop trade and partnerships with other countries in Europe.
European Times: Looking to the future, what changes do you anticipate in Kyrgyzstan’s agriculture sector over the coming five to ten years?
Akylbek Jumaliev: We are steadily expanding our markets, for example in the Middle East, and we are seeing more investors from outside the region. I believe these trends will continue. One of our potential investors is a food company from Qatar which is attracted to Kyrgyzstan because of our abundance of pure water for irrigation. We have already received a major investment from PepsiCo and our president recently helped inaugurate a new juice plant; we have been importing juice from Ukraine and now we will be able to produce it here. Organic agricultural production also has a great future here. Kyrgyzstan has enormous potential in the agriculture sector through adding value and boosting quality.