New Threat to Horticulture of Central Asia: Labor Shortage

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According to EastFruit experts from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, a new problem has arisen in the countries, which caught many by a complete surprise. This problem is rather serious and could lead to a decline in the production and exports of fruits and vegetables from the region.

The rapid growth in the incomes of the population of the Central Asian countries in recent years makes people less interested in such physically demanding work as harvesting vegetables and fruits or doing other fieldwork. Please note that fieldwork in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan is carried out in extreme weather conditions –the air temperatures here since the end of May, as a rule, reach 40 degrees Celsius during the day.

Also, in recent years, there has been an increase in the flow of labor migrants from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, not only to Russia and Kazakhstan but also to countries where the level of income and wages is higher, namely South Korea, Turkey, EU countries and even to the UK. Poland is also considering the issue of replacing Ukrainian seasonal workers for harvesting berries with workers from Uzbekistan. Accordingly, a physical shortage of workers available in the country is beginning to be observed.

Unfortunately for the countries of Central Asia, the emphasis in the production of fruits and vegetables has traditionally been placed on the low price of products as it was sold mostly to such a low-income country as Russia. This approach worked as long as labor was plentiful, and farmers were happy with even a relatively small income despite the fact that they had to work really hard. In Tajikistan, farmers harvest three crops during the season, and they only manage to sleep 3 hours per night maximum during the summer.

However, if this farmer, let alone a seasonal worker, has an alternative in the form of an opportunity to earn the same or even more money in more comfortable conditions, then many will take advantage of this opportunity. Moreover, at the moment, there is a shortage of workers in the EU countries, and in the developed countries of Asia, and in the USA, where the wages of unskilled workers are sometimes ten times higher than in most Central Asian countries.

“I often repeat that Uzbekistan and Tajikistan simply cannot afford to grow cheap products and should focus on producing high-quality products for a high-price segment. They are far from the markets, and the costs of logistics for them will always be very high. The cheaper the product, the greater part of the price is “eaten up” by the logistics. Now, another factor is being added – the rapidly rising cost of labor, which may make the cultivation of some fruits and vegetables unprofitable if quality approaches and marketing philosophy are not changed, ”says Andriy Yarmak, an economist at the Investment Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Source: Horti Daily