In the early 1990s, agriculture was the second largest sector of the economy, contributing about 36 percent of GDP and employing about 18 percent of the workforce in 1993. The climate and soil of most of Kazakstan are best suited to the light grazing by which the nomadic Kazaks had traditionally supported themselves, following herds of sheep, cattle, camels, and horses about the open steppe. Despite such natural advantages, Soviet policy encouraged cultivation, especially in the northern parts of the republic. The major transformation occurred under premier Khrushchev during the Virgin Lands program of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Its objectives were to reduce Soviet grain imports to Central Asia and settle the remaining nomadic herdsmen of Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan. Under that program, 60 percent of Kazakstan's pastureland went under cultivation. An estimated 30 percent of that land was not suitable for cultivation, however, and Khrushchev was ousted in 1964 after a series of crop failures in Kazakstan. In 1992 the total area under cultivation was 36.5 million hectares, of which 2.3 million hectares were irrigated. Much of this land is dedicated to large-scale wheat farming, which requires intensive capitalization and does not lend itself to privatization. Even with the emphasis on grain production, about 84 percent of the republic's agricultural land, or about 187 million hectares, remains devoted to pasturage, mainly of cattle and sheep. Continuation of the Soviet system of intensive livestock management, dependent on fodder more than on natural grazing, has left much grazing land unused and has distorted cultivation in favor of fodder production.
The primary agricultural regions are the north-central and southern parts of the republic. Grain production is especially important in the north-central region, and cotton and rice predominate in the south (see table 7, Appendix). Kazakstan also is a major producer of meat and milk.
In 1993 only about 1.5 percent of agricultural land was in private hands. Although some privatization had occurred, the bulk of Kazakstan's agriculture remained organized in 7,000 to 8,000 state and collective farms that averaged 35,000 to 40,000 hectares each. Many of those farms had moved into a transitional stage of joint-stock ownership, private collectives, or farming associations (see Post-Soviet Economic Developments, this ch.). The state also has maintained control of agricultural inputs and equipment, as well as some processing and marketing policies and operations. In the wake of price liberalization, the mandated state share of agricultural sales has decreased annually from the 1991 level of 70 percent.
Until the early 1990s, western Kazakstan was an important fishing area, but sharply increased salination has made the Aral Sea sterile. Fishing output dropped from 105,300 tons in 1960 to 89,600 tons in 1989. The current figure is probably close to zero, judging by the decision of Soviet central planners in 1990 to fly Arctic fish to Kazakstan for processing as a means of maintaining local employment in that operation.
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