Farm mechanization gone backward in Central Asia

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Farmers and those in agriculture in the U.S. historically were known for their equipment knowledge and ability to “baling wire” equipment together until it could professionally be repaired. But those baling wire days are gone with the size of U.S. equipment and the sophistication of everything being built.

But baling wire repair is still common in third-world countries. Sophisticated equipment requires trained technicians being available to make repairs and parts being readily available, too. Third-world small-plot farmers don't have the money to buy modern equipment, buy parts or pay technicians.

Farmers in developing nations have the ability to learn, but basically are improvising as they go. The capability to accomplish a lot with very little is the connection to the old-timer farmers of the U.S.

There are many, many examples of third-world farming struggles, and the Radio Free Europe news service provided an example from Kyrgyzstan, where most farming is subsistence level. Baktybek Kupeshov, a farmer in the northwestern Issyk-Kul region, cobbles together makeshift tractors from bits of old Soviet-era cars.

"As you see from this tractor, I use the transmission from a Dzhiguli, an engine from a Moravi, the hood from a Zaporozhets, and the axles from a Moskvitch. The tires are from agricultural machines," he said. "So, we take cars that are too old to drive, disassemble them, and reuse the elements."

Over the past several years, Kupeshov has built 14 tractors for his fellow villagers and sold them for $1,500 to $2,000 a piece—about a quarter of the cost of a new Chinese tractor. Even he admits his creations are not beautiful, but in a country where new farm equipment is mostly unaffordable, beauty is not the priority.

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, Kyrgyzstan has fewer tractors per hectare than any other country on a comparable economic level. It may also have some of the oldest, with many tractors dating back to the Soviet era.

Although farming was not efficient under Soviet domination, there was more mechanization. Farming modernization has gone backward.

Collective farms in Central Asia were heavily mechanized in the Soviet era. Today, the falloff in state investment coupled with the graying of old equipment has left many farmers with no choice but to return to animal and human muscle power to raise and harvest their crops.

In Uzbekistan, almost half of the country's cotton crop was harvested by machines during the Soviet era. Today, according to the London-based Cotton Campaign against child labor, it is almost all harvested by farm families by hand.

In Kazakhstan's northern steppe lands, time has rolled back in planting crops. During the Soviet era, vast areas were put into wheat cultivation. But according to the World Bank, the area under cultivation has since shrunk up to 50 percent due to soil fertility loss, lack of fertilizers and obsolete equipment.

Analysts suggest the Central Asian successor states ceased to regard mechanization as a priority after the collapse of the Soviet system disrupted their trading relationships with the other republics in the 1990s.

U.S. farming has nearly nothing in common with the production practices and systems or the distribution of crop protection products of the nations formerly under the Soviet control. How these countries climb out of their near-desperate agricultural situation is getting a lot of action, but a solution appears to be decades off.

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