Magazine article Women & Environments International Magazine

Climate Change, Livelihoods, and Food Security in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan

Magazine article Women & Environments International Magazine

Climate Change, Livelihoods, and Food Security in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan

Article excerpt

The transition from a Soviet centrally planned economy to a market oriented economy posed new opportunities but also limitations in Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of 1990s. Post-Soviet land reforms in Uzbekistan affected middle and low income women's ability to make a living from producing food as well as their ability to ensure their own food security.

In a study which I conducted in Uzbekistan in 2009, my focus was on women's income-generating activities in response to the impact of privatized farming activities that are now a part of land tenure changes in rural development in the postSoviet period. The study consisted of 91 interviews carried out in rural areas of Uzbekistan to explore how social and savings networks, such as gap (indigenous social rotating and economic savings network of women or men), influence women's engagement in income-generating activities. The study's findings concluded that environmental and economic changes in post-Soviet Uzbekistan are curtailing women's livelihoods by limiting their access to land and crops, therefore compromising their food security (Tursunova, 2011).

Effects of climate change on livelihood strategies

Various environmental factors, most of which were associated with climate change, impacted women's livelihood strategies and their access to food security. Peasants observed that growing garlic became difficult because of ecological problems which began three years prior to the beginning of the study. Garlic is an important cash crop for the livelihood strategies that women engage in.

Strawberries were also a particularly vulnerable crop as they were exposed directly to acid rain which frequently ruined crops. A woman who plants strawberries described her experience with the crop: "Now we have acid rains. When acid rain falls, the strawberry looks okay, but it is impossible to eat. The leaves become dark. The crops are spoiled. It happens from time to time, more often than every two years. As a result, we have losses." Women's income generating strategies are hindered when strawberry production is compromised because strawberries are a cash crop that draw a high price in the market. Climate change in recent years has threatened agricultural productivity, therefore limiting women's income-generating activities and their well-being.

People in Uzbekistan also expressed concern about the reduction of local biodiversity as it has had a direct effect on one's ability to secure a livelihood. New foreign seeds for crops that have not been previously grown in Uzbekistan, affordable for a few rich peasants, intensified class hierarchies and increased a gap between rich and poor peasants. These new foreign seeds have economically empowered the highest strata of peasants.

However, these peasants could not reproduce seeds and were therefore dependent on foreign distributors' supply of seeds. This relationship between local peasants and foreign markets created a neo-colonial dependency between foreign and local producers in post-Soviet Uzbekistan.

Effects of land reforms on food security

After Uzbekistan declared independence in 1991 new land reforms had an impact on food security. State and collective farms established in Soviet times were gradually transformed into cooperative enterprises (shirkats) and later on into private farms.

In the rural area examined in my study, these land restructuring reforms had a specific effect on women's lives as well as the members of their households. Women have witnessed reduced access to land, due to population growth, growing scarcity of available agricultural land and increasing prices to rent farm land. Low-income households were particularly vulnerable as they had difficulty renting land, buying seeds, and hiring labour to plant crops.

Families had difficulties diversifying livelihood activities into agricultural, informal, and formal economic sectors in order to survive. …

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