Uzbek doctors and teachers got a shock this month when part of their salaries came in the form of...Serbian chickens.
More than 20,000 chicks have already been distributed to public sector workers in the Central Asian country's Vobkent district, in the Bukhara region, and an additional 40,000 will be handed out in the coming months.
Public sector workers get 10 chicks each under the initiative, launched after cabinet ministers in February urged regional governments to boost domestic production of poultry, eggs, meat, and vegetables.
According to local officials, the Serbian chickens are far superior to their Uzbek counterparts and are expected to start laying eggs within two months.
Officials insist the campaign is being conducted on a voluntary basis. Some of the recipients, however, told RFE/RL they had received the chicks against their will. This has been especially problematic for those living in apartment blocks.
"We were given a mandatory 10 chicks each," says Odil, a 32-year-old teacher, who spoke to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "Each chick costs 5,500 soms ($3). It's a little more expensive than local chicks. There is no way to refuse the offer; it was compulsory."
Critics say the cash-strapped Uzbek government is simply trying to cut costs.
But officials insist the campaign has been a success and are considering expanding it to other districts.
Such a success, in fact, that they are now mulling a cattle-for-cash program.
This time, the cows would come from Ukraine.
-- Barno Isakova and Claire Bigg