As one of the top wheat importers in the world, Uzbekistan might have found an answer to some of its agricultural shortages by renting farmland in Russia.
Uzbek Agriculture Minister Jamshid Hojaev discussed the topic via videoconference with Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Levin in early October, Uzbek and Russian media reported.
Uzbekistan is hoping to rent up to 1 million hectares of land in Russia to grow wheat, soy, and oilseeds there.
Uzbekistan produces about 6.6 million to 7.6 million tons of wheat a year and imports some 3 million tons, though imports have reportedly swelled to 3.7 million tons in 2020-21.
The plan is for Uzbekistan to first rent 35,000 hectares, gradually expand to 300,000 to 500,000 hectares, and eventually be farming up to 1 million hectares in Russia.
Levin said Russia has 8 to 13 million hectares of land available and 23 “constituent entities” of the country have already expressed their support for the project.
No one has yet publicly clarified where in Russia the rented farmland would be located.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, spoke with a leading agricultural specialist in Uzbekistan who said there are still many unanswered questions about the possible deal.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said such an arrangement between Uzbekistan and Russia looks positive, but “if Uzbek farmers enter the [agricultural] sector in Russia, what sort of land will be allocated to them?”
The specialist added that Uzbek farmers could find themselves on untilled, unirrigated lands that they would need money to develop.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev proposed in December 2020 that local businessmen should look into renting and farming land in Russia.
Minister Hojaev said all of the crops that would be grown on Russian land under such a deal would be exported to Uzbekistan, but he did not say how much it would cost to rent the Russian farmland.
The proposal could be an interesting experiment and, if successful, it seems all the parties involved would benefit, as it creates new opportunities for Uzbek migrant workers in Russia, where hundreds of thousands are already working.
It is interesting that Uzbekistan would set up a deal with Russia and not with its closer neighbor, Kazakhstan, which has ample amounts of farmland.
When Kazakhstan -- which lies between Uzbekistan and Russia -- proposed leasing some of its fallow territory to foreign countries several years ago, it sparked huge protests by Kazakhs concerned that Chinese farmers would come to their country in large numbers.
It is apparently still too early to talk about foreigners leasing Kazakh farmland.
Uzbekistan grew some 6.5 million tons of wheat on 1.4 million hectares of land in 2020-21.
If the agreement with Russia comes to fruition, it could end Tashkent's need to import wheat for many years to come.