President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov has delivered a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the international conference “On Vital Reserves in the Realization of Food Program in Uzbekistan”. Following is the text of the address.
Distinguished participants of the conference!
Ladies and gentlemen!
I have a great pleasure to welcome you, dear our guests, participants of the international conference – officials of prominent international organizations, foreign governments, scholars and practitioner specialists, heads of companies, banks and other financial institutions working in the agricultural sector of the economy – and express my deep respect and sincere gratefulness to you for your participation in this forum.
I would like to convey my special thanks to Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Jose Graziano da Silva, Director of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab, Vice President of the Asian Development Bank Wencai Zhang, the European Union’s Special Representative for Central Asia Janos Herman, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Hameed Opeloyeru, Director General of the International Organization of Vine and Wine Jean-Marie Aurand, the World Bank Head of Department for Sustainable Development in Central Asia Laurent Debroux, Director of the Department for Agricultural Development of the Islamic Development Bank Demba Ba, the Belgian Senate member Dominique Tilmans, Bulgaria’s Food and Agriculture Minister Dimitar Grekov and other esteemed guests, who involvement affords our forum a special significance.
More than 200 foreign guests from 40 nations and 20 international organizations are taking part in the conference.
Esteemed participants of the conference!
The international expert analyses and evaluations in food security issues point to a serious concern and alarm with regard to the situation unfolding in the world and in its certain regions in this respect. This problem is currently considered one of the most pressing and critical challenges the world community has faced.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, in excess of 840 million people today suffer from malnutrition, that is, practically every eighth person, while more than 30 percent of the population of our planet endures problems connected to undernourishment and shortage of key microelements and vitamins. For this very reason, over 160 million children suffer from growth delays, physical and intellectual development.
The crisis of the year 2008 is still well cemented in our mind, when the growth in global prices and irregularities in the supply of foodstuffs became a cause of grave unrests and mass disorders in many countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and posed a threat to the stability in the entire world.
I believe there is little need to assert today that the major reason behind the tension gaining strength from one year to another in addressing the food program is the gap between the advanced growth rates of the population on the Earth and the limited capacities in the growth of production volumes of foodstuffs.
To put it in simpler terms, the growth in the volumes of food production has been failing to catch up the growing number and needs of the population.
This gap deteriorates first of all in such countries and regions where there are no corresponding conditions for an accelerated production of foods.
What is at issue is first and foremost the ongoing environmental degradation and unpredictable consequences of climate change, the frequent droughts and scarcity of water resources, including the underground water depletion for irrigation, the insufficiency of investments directed at irrigation, melioration and restoration of soil fertility.
The ecological degradation of land is aggravated by an unlimited intensive use of chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides. Added to these are the problems associated with urbanization, the flow of population from rural areas to cities, which substantially reduces lands for growing foodstuffs.
Also, one cannot ignore the swift rates of economic growth, increase in population incomes and the corresponding boom in the volumes of food consumption in a number of Asian countries, such as China, India and others. And of course, one cannot disregard the huge losses in food products supplied in line with the scheme “from the field to the table”, which, according to FAO, amount to around 1.3 billion tons of foodstuffs a year in the world for nearly 1 trillion dollars.
Such is the objective reality, with which we have to take into account when we deal with forecasts and problems in food security, especially in such regions and extensive territories where this issue is pretty urgent and pressing.
Another point I would like to draw your attention to is the fundamentally critical one, without the consideration of which it is senseless to discuss issues related to securing adequate nutrition for the population.
It is extremely critical in defining the normative need in food products to take into account the fact that the task of providing for balanced nourishment comes down not only to the achievement of normative caloric value and accessibility of the diet.
Adequate nutrition is contingent to an enormous extent on its structure, on the degree of supply with essential nutrient and quality food products in proper ratios for the normal development and activities of the human being, on apt metabolism, on healthcare and prevention of diseases, on deceleration of aging processes of the organism and increase in life expectancy.
Critical significance in this is the inflow with the food of such substances as indispensable amino acids, vitamins, mineral substances, microelements and others that cannot emerge in it by themselves.
And these useful matters, vitamins and microelements can be found in their large amounts exclusively, let me repeat it – exclusively in vegetables, fruits and grapes, and they cannot be replaced by any other products.
Put it in other words, it is by no means a secret to anyone that the health, expectancy and quality of life of humans are part and parcel of the provision of healthy and balanced nutrition, the most crucial integral part of which should be vegetables and fruits.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) data suggest, the consumption of fruits and vegetables is particularly low – as 150-200 grams a day per person – in the developing nations instead of the recommended minimum 400 grams a day.
In accordance with recommendations of international nutritionists, fruits and vegetables ought to shape at least 50 percent of the diet of any person.
Dear participants of the conference!
Summing up the discussion, we see the goals and objectives of the current forum in getting you, contributors to the conference, familiar with the tremendous expertise and potential garnered in Uzbekistan in the growth and production of vegetables, fruits and grapes, with the richest diversity of varieties and their unique quality, unparalleled in the world of breeding, in addressing the existing problems and opportunities in the enhancement of Uzbekistan’s input into solving the global food program.
It is well known that the current state, prospects, structure of the food crops nurtured in a country, their taste and useful qualities, their place in the economy and exports of a nation depend first of all on its geographical location, soil and climatic conditions and, of course, on the established level and culture of farming, the art, if you want, of growing one or another product, along with the demand the product enjoys in the local and foreign markets.
Indeed, exceptional soil and climatic conditions of our country, whereby we have on average 320 sunny days in the year, a consistent alternation of all four climatic seasons create exclusively favorable opportunities for fostering major types of high quality fresh fruits and vegetables in an extensive range.
The distinctive peculiarity of the agricultural season in our country is that it starts in early March, when the early greens ripen in natural conditions, and continues almost the entire year up until early December, when the late varieties of grapes, melons, ebony, quince are supplied to the market, which makes Uzbekistan a reliable base for a stable, practically all-year-round provision of fruits and vegetables and melons.
And there is another secret that I would like to unveil to you, dear friends. Thanks to the combination of rare natural and soil-climatic conditions, many most tasteful and useful vegetables and fruits in the world can be produced in our region alone.
Indeed, those who have tried them out will agree with me. To be sure, we all love fruits and vegetables we grow in our home country. But what can you do if not every corner of the Earth is endowed with such magnificent conditions – weather, climatic, soil qualities. And yes, if you want, much is endowed – it is so much that scientists have not been able so far to show all those factors in combination. In the sense that every one of these factors has an influence in its own way. Once, in antiquity, Ibn Sino (Avicenna) used to use fruits and vegetables to cure people, because there were no chemical medicines then. Thus they used to treat with natural means, primarily vegetables and fruits and medicinal herbs. And today, our physicians who live in rural areas perfectly command such skills.
According to specialists, the fruits and vegetables grown in our conditions are substantially superior to the similar products from other regions in such principal consumer characteristics as the content of natural sugars, amino and organic acids, microelements and other biologically valuable substances critical for health and irreplaceable in nutrition.
Expounding on the exclusive properties and nutritious value of the vegetables and fruits grown in Uzbekistan, it is essential to note that Uzbek breeders have created more than 170 varieties of vegetables, melons and potatoes, along with 175 new varieties of fruits and grapes.
Uzbekistan has long been renowned for its tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, peaches, apricots, plums, pears, sweet cherries, figs, pomegranates, quinces, grapes and many other types of fruits and vegetables, as well as the Uzbek melons distinct with special taste and fragrance.
The ages-old culture of traditional vegetable growing and gardening in Uzbekistan is initially built on the principles of biological farming with the application of organic fertilizers, which allows for nurturing ecologically clean vegetables and fruits with unique taste and nutritious qualities without the use of genetically modifying technologies.
This topic is especially urgent in the world, and there are many differing, often opposing viewpoints on this front. If I offer my own vision, I believe the genetically modifying technology was created out of largely noble motives and incentives, to increase the productivity and overall volumes of grown crops. But so long as it is not proved that such technologies do not harm the health of humans and there are no clear unwelcome consequences in 10-20 years, I am convinced that those who are pretty fond of them proceeding from primarily commercial – or I would even say egoistic – considerations, they should not get engaged in this endeavor so deeply and extensively. One should weigh quite thoroughly on this.
As far as we are concerned, we have fancied primarily the organic fertilizers from the start. We have always preferred them. And we are convinced in the correctness of this method and the advantages of organics vis-а-vis the mineral fertilizers, pesticides and other such substances. They should be used to combat pests, but not as stimulators. As practice shows, the best stimulators are exactly the organic fertilizers.
Today, the Uzbek fruits and vegetables have turned into a genuine brand with a high repute and are distinct with high competitiveness in the countries that traditionally import them.
Within a short period of our independent development, cardinal reforms have been undertaken in Uzbekistan that have allowed for a practically complete diversification of agriculture and provision of our population with major food crops and their exportation in great volumes.
It is particularly important if one takes into account the fact that in the early 1990s, when Uzbekistan used to be in the Soviet Union, the agriculture of our country was fully directed at growing only one crop, namely, the production of cotton fiber, with which we used to supply the entire socialist camp.
Suffice it to say that in the 1990s, cotton used to be assigned up to 90 percent in the structure of cultivation areas. Practically there was no crop rotation. Land dwindled, and was barbarously used for only one purpose – to grow cotton. Then there was the so-called division of labor. One Soviet republic produced meat, another grew wheat, a third one produced some consumer goods. And for us, Uzbekistan, cotton production was fixed, the volume of which every year grew and reached 6 million tons. We fulfilled all of our obligations, but the food supply promised to us from the center was not assured in the right amounts and timing. We used to process only 8-10 percent of cotton grown here, while the rest was processed in other republics, where we delivered it in crude. Naturally, it was they who used to extract income.
When viewed from this perspective, what kind of food supply could there be? We in Uzbekistan, in the 1990s the basic food commodities, including wheat, cereals, meat, dairy products, eggs and sugar, were forced to import from outside the country.
The monopoly of cotton and one-sided development of agriculture in the Soviet period led to the fact that in Uzbekistan, which has a fertile land and excellent climatic conditions, the consumption of meat, dairy products, grains and even fruits and vegetables and potatoes per capita was twice as low as in other republics of the Soviet Union.
By measures taken, we halved the area under cotton and its production from 6 million tons to just over 3 million tons, and freed space was given to the food crops.
The fundamental basis of the reforms in agricultural production in our country has become the cardinal institutional transformation, the essence of which was the total elimination of administrative planning and distribution system, the transition to market relations.
Agricultural land was transferred to the newly created private farms with allocation of land plots on a rental basis, providing for needed benefits and preferences by the state. In particular, farmers use a simplified system of taxation – they are subject to only one type of tax, namely the single land tax. Lending rate for farmers is less than 5 percent.
A crucial role in improving the efficiency of agriculture was assigned to the creation of a reliable market infrastructure, providing farmers with all kinds of services. Currently providing services in rural areas are the more than 1.5 thousand mini-banks, almost 2,000 machinery and tractor fleets, about 2.5 thousand units for the sale of fuel and fertilizers. Moreover, 1.5 thousand water users’ associations have been created in rural areas, and more than 350 consulting centers.
To provide farmers with modern technologies, state-of-the-art tractors, combine harvesters and plows and other attachments are produced in the country together with German companies Claas and Lemken.
Within a short period of time, many regions of the country have become successful producers and exporters of fruits and vegetables in demand in the world market. High-yielding areas of intensive gardening, drip irrigation systems have been created. Adopted as recently as last year, the program for the further development of viticulture envisages for a 1.3 times increase in the vineyard area.
As a result of major reforms in agriculture during the years of independence, that is, over the past 22 years, grain production increased from 1 million tons to 7.8 million tons, turning our country into an exporter of wheat. Previously, we used to import 5 million tons of wheat to feed our population. And now we have not only achieved grain independence, but already exporting good quality wheat to neighboring countries.
Over the years of independence, agricultural production has overall grown twofold, which allowed, despite the increase in population of nearly 10 million people, or over 30 percent swell, for an increase in per capita meat consumption 1.3 times, milk and dairy products 1.6 times, potatoes by 1.7 times, vegetables more than twofold, and fruits almost fourfold.
Currently, the country annually produces about 16 million tons of fruits and vegetables, implying that in per capita terms we secure the production of about 300 kilograms of vegetables, 75 kilograms of potatoes and 44 kilograms of grapes, which is about three times as high as the optimal consumption rates.
The food program we are implementing has allowed solving key problems of ensuring a full and balanced nutrition of the population.
Improvement in the structure and diet, along with other factors, has had a fundamentally beneficial impact on the health of the population, especially children.
For example, over the past 10 years, the proportion of children with low body weight decreased more than twofold (from 4 percent to 1.8 percent), and their average height increased by 3 centimeters, while significantly decreased – 2.5 times – the disease of women with such a serious ailment as anemia, typical for our region.
I would like to emphasize that, in general terms, during independence years the average life expectancy of Uzbekistan’s population has increased by 7.5 years (from 66 years to 73.5 years), while women’s life expectancy has risen to 75 years.
Few countries in the world can boast such results today. With your permission, I will briefly review the main factors that have helped achieve them, because it is not fiction, it is the actual results.
Thanks to what have we made such achievements? If we talk about the main factor, it is our hard-working, our courageous people. The diligence, the hospitality of the Uzbek people, the breadth of their soul is known well outside Uzbekistan.
It is necessary to consider another aspect. Once they achieved independence, many former Soviet republics began to talk about the fact that they quickly reached those heights that reach other states for dozens, maybe hundreds of years. However, we need not hurry everywhere.
As history shows, during a transition from one socio-political and economic system to another there are, of course, serious problems that must be addressed for years. Most importantly, you need to change the consciousness, the thinking of people. Without it you can not change the command-administrative, planning and distribution system, transfer to the market. At the time, I was chairman of Gosplan (State Planning Committee), the Minister of Finance and I knew the system from inside. And thus I want to say to those who are nostalgic about the Soviet past that it is very difficult to argue with me about why planning and distribution system is untenable.
The essence of the matter is that we have developed a model that the world recognized as the Uzbek model of reforms.
Speaking of our own path of development chosen by us, it should be noted that our model is based on the five known principles. The first is stripping the economy of ideology and the economy’s priority over politics. Economy can not be constrained by any ideology, and I believe it is nonsense. A hungry man is said to be listening to music through the stomach. If a person is hungry, if he has a low standard of living, if his basic needs are not met, it is hardly possible to feed him with any ideology.
The second principle is the assignment of the state as the principal reformer.
The third principle is to secure the rule of law, that everyone is equal before the law.
The fourth principle backs a potent social policy. In our country, 60 percent of the population amounts to youths. When viewed from this perspective, we have no right but provide for a robust social policy.
And finally, the fifth principle is the phased, gradual implementation of reforms. First of all, we created a corresponding legislative framework for reforms. We have formed a powerful, unique system of training specialists. Just look at our people, at our young people – their eyes light up. These are the people who are now able to do things that are not always a virtue for someone else, because they have a great desire to realize themselves, their potential. I think it is the main factor in bringing up a generation of new formation.
During the implementation of wide-ranging reforms in Uzbekistan, we are guided by two slogans, which found expression in the following words: “Do not destroy the old house until you build a new one” and “Reforms are not for the sake of reforms, but for the people”. This very approach has always been the main criterion in our activities.
I think you will understand what we have achieved if I cite just two figures. Despite the global financial and economic crisis, which continues from 2008 to the present day, Uzbekistan has been among the few countries in the world where for the past 9 years, the growth rate of the gross domestic product has been no lower than 8 percent. Our public debt does not exceed 11 percent of GDP, and our gold reserves are increasing each year. We have no state budget deficit, it runs a surplus. And every year we achieve a significant increase in the proportion of the budget that goes to social development. For this purpose we assign almost 60 percent of the state budget: 34 percent to education and more than 15 percent to healthcare. This is what the modern Uzbekistan is.
Today we are talking about the food program, but you will agree with me that no program can be realized without the development of the economy as a whole. Consequently, carrying out the food program, we must simultaneously solve a lot of related issues. First of all, create a strong economic potential and, crucially, change people’s attitude to food, which is a cherished blessing, which is given by hard work and it should always be valued.
Today, we are exporters of food, especially fruits and vegetables, products worth about 5 billion dollars, and for the last three years the agricultural exports have enlarged more than threefold.
Our leading suppliers actively participate in international exhibitions and trade fairs; we export more than 180 species of fresh and processed fruit and vegetable products to 80 countries. In terms of the export volumes of apricots, plums, grapes, nuts, cabbage and some other fruits and vegetables, Uzbekistan is surely among the world’s top ten suppliers of these products.
You, our distinguished guests, could yesterday and today with your own eyes see the variety of foods produced in the country.
But in order to see its full richness and diversity of our fruits and vegetables, you need to go into our markets. And see not only a unique palette of colors, but in the first place our people, who can complement your experience.
We now have every reason to be confident in the high rates of production of food crops. The rates of growth in the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, melons and grapes achieved in the country over the past 10 years are quite telling in this regard.
Thus, the production of vegetables in 2004-2013 in terms of value, in dollars, increased 7.7 times, of fruits and vegetables grew 5.1 times, of melons 7.8, grapes 8.7 times. Our forecasts: in 2020 the production of fruits and vegetables, grapes and melons compared to the year 2014 is envisaged to increase at least 2.3 times.
Needless to say, relying on such prospects of production of fruits and vegetables and grapes, it is necessary first of all to continue and deepen the scale works on the reform and modernization of agriculture, improvement of land reclamation and irrigation, perfection of fertility and the output of land. Particular attention should be paid to attracting foreign investment and, of course, the demand for the products on the world market, the formation of modern storage systems, logistics and delivery of products to consumers.
We need to continue working hard to prevent large crop losses of foodstuffs, especially vegetables, fruits and grapes, on the way from the field to the consumer. And above all, to solve many problems associated with underdevelopment and network storage refrigerators, logistics and travel costs.
I must say that, to our great regret, many fruits and vegetables grown by us are not used by consumers in fresh state, but as canned, processed or dried, when products lose their consumer quality, taste and useful properties from the medical point of view.
Despite considerable progress in this area, we do not have all the infrastructure, resources and capabilities, necessary modern technologies, such as shock freezing, storage in a neutral gas environment, to keep products fresh, ensure the stability and predictability of prices, reduce dependence on seasonal factors, and much more.
Extensive works are currently underway in Uzbekistan in this area. Today the construction and full reconstruction of 274 modern refrigeration chambers and storehouses of fruits and vegetables totaling more than 190 thousand tons have been completed.
In 2010, in the Navoi free industrial economic zone we launched modern storage facilities in neutral gas environment of more than 3 million tons of fresh produce, which is then shipped by international air transport to markets in Europe and Asia.
To do this, we widely use the capacities of the intermodal logistics center established in our country, which includes the Navoi International Airport, which is under the management of one of the world’s largest freight carriers – Korean Air.
In total, the country currently has more than 1,300 storehouses with a capacity of over 630,000 tons, where main types of fruit and vegetable production are annually packed, which ensures stable prices in the domestic market and guaranteed supply of exports in the winter-spring season.
In the near future Uzbek companies are to open a transport and logistics center in the Baltic port of Liepaja with a daily storage capacity of 1.5 thousand tons, through which fresh fruits and vegetables will be delivered directly to customers in Northern and Western Europe.
Dear participants of the conference!
We are well aware that to achieve our goals in the modernization and improvement of agriculture, involving existing resources and possibilities to increase production of food crops, their variety and quality of foreign investment, is difficult without specific assistance and support from the international financial institutions and banks .
We appreciate the help we have had from institutions such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Islamic Development Bank, the Global Environment Fund, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and many others, as well as foreign government agencies, with the participation of which for the implementation of more than 100 investment and grant projects over 1.1 billion dollars have been drawn.
Special gratitude I would like to express not only for the allocation of funds, but first of all for the practical help and cooperation in attracting advanced agro-industrial technologies, development and reconstruction of agricultural infrastructure, irrigation and drainage systems, new technologies of marketing and access to world markets . I think one who has received such support is well aware of the importance of such assistance.
I would like to stress that in the framework of the visit by Mr. Jose Graziano da Silva we sign an agreement on cooperation between FAO and the Republic of Uzbekistan, and we are opening a FAO office in Tashkent.
I would like to express my complete satisfaction with Uzbekistan’s establishment of constructive cooperation with the International Fund for Agricultural Development – a key financial institution of the United Nations in the field of agriculture, one of whose main tasks is to implement proven approaches to the formation of highly efficient agricultural systems.
Taking this opportunity, I consider it necessary to emphasize the important role of the Asian Development Bank in addressing food security in our country.
We appreciate the dynamically developing cooperation between Uzbekistan and the ADB, under which 6 projects totaling more than 400 million dollars in the sphere of agricultural production alone have been implemented.
One of the top priorities of our cooperation is assigned to projects in the modernization of irrigation systems.
It is no coincidence that last year, together with ADB and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, we launched a project to restore the Amu Bukhara mechanized channel which envisages the reconstruction and modernization of irrigation infrastructure that supplies water to 315 thousand hectares of land, where more than 1.8 million people live.
Growing in scale has been the participation of the World Bank in the development of the agricultural sector. We have implemented eight projects totaling 380 million dollars, and this year we plan to begin implementation of two more projects with total loans of 450 million dollars.
In southern Karakalpakstan we start a major project to improve the management of water resources, with total concessional long-term loans worth 260 million dollars.
Within this project, we also plan to restore 30 thousand hectares of degraded land, with the organization of diversified and highly mechanized production of food crops in these areas.
We see great prospects in a joint project with the World Bank on the comprehensive modernization of horticulture in seven regions of our country. Under this project that totals 200 million dollars, we envisage to implement a major modernization and development of our research capacities in the field of seed breeding and plant protection, as well as open lines of credit to farmers and other small businesses to invest in modern agricultural technologies.
It is gratifying that the prospects and the novelty of this project secured the support from the Global Environment Fund of the United Nations, which has provided a grant in the amount of 13 million dollars for its implementation, which will focus on the introduction of advanced technologies in farms and the acquisition of new equipment.
With the Islamic Development Bank, we run two projects with total loans of 143 million dollars for rehabilitation of irrigation systems in the Khorezm, Jizzakh and Sirdarya regions, and have begun to prepare a project to improve water management in Surkhandarya region.
An increasingly important role and place is played by agricultural industry enterprises set up jointly with foreign partners to boost storage, processing and export of fruits and vegetables.
In Uzbekistan, in the sphere of agricultural production about 400 enterprises are created with foreign direct investments from 50 countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, USA, Switzerland, China, South Korea, Italy, Spain and others. They carry out their activities starting from production of fresh goods to manufacturing food products on the basis of deep processing of local crudes.
These entities have completely mastered ultrahigh-temperature techniques, aseptic methods of conservation, shock freezing and artificial drying methods. In 2013 alone, these enterprises produced goods for the equivalent of more than 800 million dollars, including exports carried out for more than 200 million dollars.
In the coming years, implementation is envisaged of an additional 265 investment projects for the handling and processing of fruit and vegetable crudes totaling approximately 150 million dollars. I note that the investments made in this area do not require high costs, and at the same time provide for a high and quick return, namely, within 1.5 to 4 years.
There is no doubt that the exceptionally important issues in food security that have acquired urgency today require indisputably even greater coordination and interaction, large-scale international cooperation, joint approaches and assessments for the future. And of course, they require systematic and continuous exchange of experiences and best practices accumulated in various parts of the world.
I have no doubt that the contacts being established within this conference, the exchange of expertise and experience on the issue, analysis and elaboration of practical recommendations, will prove pretty useful for all the participants – representatives of international organizations, national governments, academic institutions and businesses.
I would like to emphasize in particular that we in Uzbekistan are sincerely interested in enhancing cooperation toward the realization of joint programs and projects with all international organizations, foreign investors, entrepreneurs, banks, scholars and specialists, and we see in this one of the principal objectives of this conference.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to reiterate the words of earnest gratitude to all who gathered in this hall, wish you a productive and creative work, a pleasant stay in the hospitable land of Uzbekistan, every success and the best of luck in your activities.
Thank you for your attention.