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Country profile - Kyrgyzstan


Bankruptcy, corruption, collapsing infrastructure, and the threat of ethnic violence are some of the challenges that Kyrgyzstan is currently facing. A violent rebellion in April 2010, which led to the establishment of a provisional government after President Bakiyev fled, was followed by ethnic violence in May and June in the south of the country, which left hundreds dead and thousands homeless. In response, various UN agencies are providing emergency shelter, food aid and agricultural inputs to the most vulnerable.

Located in the heart of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries in the region. Almost 65 per cent of the workforce is employed in agriculture, and with three-quarters of the country's poor living in rural areas the development of the agricultural sector is critical to reducing widespread poverty and ensuring food security. Rehabilitating degraded pastures, providing extension services and improving quality of export products are amongst a number of initiatives being supported by external agencies, but national stability is critical if these efforts are to be effective.


The Kyrgyz Republic has limited arable land. Over 90 per cent of the country is 1,000 metres or more above sea level, and 40 per cent is above 3,000 metres. Herding is the main source of livelihood for much of the rural population, which comprises two thirds of the overall population. The main food crops grown are wheat, barley, maize, potatoes, vegetables and fruits. Sugar beet, cotton and tobacco are important cash crops.

Medicinal herbs are harvested by many rural communities (WRENmedia)
Medicinal herbs are harvested by many rural communities

Occupying about 40 per cent of the country, pastures are one of Kyrgyzstan's major resources and are crucial for livestock production. But a decline in the practice of transhumance herding means that while pressure on more remote summer pastures at higher elevations has lifted, the more accessible winter pastures are overused and have become seriously degraded. Desertification, trans-boundary water management issues, loss of biodiversity and pollution due to industrial waste are also key environmental problems.

Kyrgyzstan's forests cover about four per cent of the country's total land area. Illegal timber harvesting and overgrazing represent the main threats. Walnuts, rose hips, wild apples and plums, mushrooms, medicinal herbs and berries are among some of the non-timber forest products that are harvested by rural communities. Most are used to cover subsistence needs but many poor households supplement their income by selling walnuts.

With numerous lakes and rivers, Kyrgyzstan has considerable potential for fish production, but poaching, water pollution, an increase in predatory fish species, lack of credit and poor availability of inputs and equipment have caused productivity to decrease since the early 1990s.

A transition

During the Soviet era, the agriculture sector was dominated by large-scale farms that managed thousands of hectares and employed hundreds of workers. Emphasis was placed on large-scale milk, beef and fine-wool production, which led to significant increases in livestock numbers and also dependence on imported concentrate feed. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the transition to a free market economy disrupted agriculture and increased poverty in rural areas.

Forty per cent of Kyrgyzstan is 3,000 metres or more above sea level (WRENmedia)
Forty per cent of Kyrgyzstan is 3,000 metres or more above sea level

GDP dropped by 50 per cent after support from the Soviet Union ceased. The loss of the Soviet market and limited availability of imported feed, combined with declining international demand for wool and privatisation of state flocks, led to a dramatic reduction in the number of sheep. Between 1990 and 2007 production of wool and meat declined by 70 and 30 per cent respectively. The numbers of cattle, goats and horses have remained relatively stable during the transition, but intensively managed herds and flocks have been replaced by family owned livestock, mainly for subsistence.

The Kyrgyz Republic was quick to implement land reform and by 1995 about 75 per cent of all agricultural land had been distributed to individuals in rural areas. Between 1996 and 1999 agricultural GDP rose by 60 per cent and land devoted to high value crops, such as cotton, more than doubled. The country's food security requirements also led to the considerable expansion of wheat, largely at the expense of fodder crops. But after 2002 agricultural growth slowed considerably. Poor access to credit, legal barriers to land consolidation, and a lack of producer organisations and cooperatives have been blamed.

Supporting farmers

Due to specialisation during the Soviet era, many farmers do not have adequate training in land management, cultivation and animal husbandry. Access to extension services and veterinary services, credit, and markets are also poor. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is working to improve agricultural research, training and extension services, including helping communities improve their management and use of pastures. To improve the profitability of farms and agribusinesses, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) helps farmers and other stakeholders to better manage local water delivery systems, create a legal market for fertiliser and seed imports, and develop associations that work to improve the business climate for the sector.

Kyrgyz farmers need better access to markets (WRENmedia)
Kyrgyz farmers need better access to markets

A number of organisations are also linking farmers with international buyers and helping to improve the quality of their products. Kyrgyzstan is home to the jaidari goat, which produces ultra-fine cashmere, but without access to markets herders are forced to sell fleeces by weight, rather than by quality. However, the Odessa Centre and Kyrgyz Cashmere Producers' Association, with support from the Aga Khan Foundation, have provided training on combing, sorting, marketing and international standards, and have encouraged herders to form marketing groups to sell fleeces in bulk. The team also supports villagers by creating linkages with companies in Europe, which are willing to pay premium prices for quality cashmere.

In order for development and support of Kyrgyz farmers to continue, peace and stability are vital. Before the uprising in April, economic growth in the country had been estimated at over five per cent, but after the violence in June authorities predicted that the economy would contract by five per cent. The border with Kazakhstan has also been closed since the violence, preventing trade and contributing to the rise in food prices. A recent food security assessment has revealed that more than one-quarter of households do not have enough food due to a combination of rising food prices, ethnic violence, a poor harvest and the onset of winter. According to the International Crisis Group, "prompt, genuine and exhaustive measures" to address the damage done are required to prevent another round of violence.

Statistical information
  • Country: Kyrgyzstan
  • Capital: Bishkek
  • Area: 199,951 sq km
  • Population: 5,508,626 (July 2010 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 1.4% (2010 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 70 (2010 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Kyrgyz 64.9%, Uzbek 13.8%, Russian 12.5%, Dungan 1.1%, Ukrainian 1%, Uyghur 1%, other 5.7% (1999)
  • Languages: Kyrgyz 64.7% (official), Uzbek 13.6%, Russian 12.5% (official), Dungun 1%, other 8.2% (1999)
  • Inflation: 6.9% (2009 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$11.66 billion (2009 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$2,100 (2009 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 27%; industry: 18%; services: 55% (2009 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 6.55%; permanent crops: 0.28%; other: 93.17% (2005)
  • Major industries: small machinery, textiles, food processing, cement, shoes, sawn logs, refrigerators, furniture, electric motors, gold, rare earth metals
  • Agricultural products: tobacco, cotton, potatoes, vegetables, grapes, fruits and berries; sheep, goats, cattle, wool
  • Natural resources: significant deposits of gold and rare earth metals; locally exploitable coal, oil, and natural gas; other deposits of nepheline, mercury, bismuth, lead, and zinc
  • Export commodities: cotton, wool, meat, tobacco; gold, mercury, uranium, natural gas, hydropower; machinery; shoes
  • Export partners: Switzerland 27.2%, Russia 19.2%, Uzbekistan 14.3%, Kazakhstan 11.4%, France 6.7% (2008)

Date published: September 2010


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