In the early 1990s, Tajikistan remained primarily an agricultural state. In 1990 agriculture contributed 38 percent of the country's net material product (NMP--see Glossary). Despite development of an extensive irrigation network in the Soviet era, water supply problems combined with Tajikistan's mountainous topography to limit agriculture to 8 percent of the republic's land in 1990. Some 800,000 hectares were under cultivation in 1990, of which about 560,000 hectares were irrigated. The irrigated land was used mostly to grow cotton; potatoes, vegetables, and grains also were cultivated (see table 16, Appendix). In 1994 the republic produced about 490,000 tons of vegetables and about 254,000 tons of cereals. The dominance of cotton combined with the rapidly growing population to render Tajikistan unable to meet domestic consumption requirements for some basic foodstuffs, especially meat and dairy products, in the last years of the Soviet era, even though the republic produced a surplus of fruits, vegetables, and eggs. In the early 1990s, about 98 percent of agricultural labor remained almost entirely unmechanized.
Through the mid-1990s, agricultural output continued to decline precipitously as a consequence of the civil war and the awkward transition to a post-Soviet economy. By 1995 overall production was estimated at about half the 1990 level, and shortages continued in urban areas. Besides the civil war, low prices for agricultural products and a shortage of animal feed contributed to the decline. Hardly any privatization of collective farms had occurred by the mid-1990s.
Cotton is by far the most important crop in Tajikistan's agrarian economy. In parts of the republic, 85 percent of the land was planted to cotton by the late 1980s, a figure that even republic officials described as excessive. At the same time, the average cotton yield per hectare was about half that achieved in the United States. Cotton production declined in the early 1990s. In 1993 Tajikistan produced about 754,000 tons, a drop of 30 percent from the 1991 figure.
Although cotton is fundamental to Tajikistan's economy, the republic's rewards for cotton production in the Soviet system were disappointing. About 90 percent of the harvest was shipped elsewhere for processing. Tajikistani factories produced thread from some of the cotton harvest, but, by the end of the Soviet era, more than 90 percent of the cotton thread that was spun went elsewhere to be turned into finished goods. In 1990 the two southern provinces of Qurghonteppa and Kulob produced roughly two-thirds of the republic's cotton, but they processed only 1 percent of the crop locally.
Despite widespread concern about overemphasis on cotton cultivation, the post-civil war government attempted to expand the production of the country's most important cash crop. For example, in 1995 it mandated an increase over the preceding year of 10,000 hectares in land assigned to cotton. However, the cotton output remained far below both the government quota and the production levels of the late Soviet era. Independent Tajikistan continued to send most of its cotton crop elsewhere--mainly to CIS countries--for processing.
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