Category Archives: Central Asia

Author interview: 30 Years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Turns and Twists in Economies, Politics, and Societies in the Post-Communist Countries, edited by Alexandr Akimov and Gennadi Kazakevitch

Editor’s note:  In this post, we are pleased to present Alfinura Sharafeyeva (University of Adelaide), who interviews Alexandr Akimov (Griffith University), one of the editors of the volume 30 Years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall:  Turns and Twists in Economies, Politics, and Societies in the Post-Communist Countries, published by Palgrave Press (Palgrave Studies in Economic History). Akimov also authored a chapter in the volume, titled “Why Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan Are Not Singapore: Comparing the First 25 Years of Reforms”.  Here Sharafeyeva and Akimov discuss the impact of issues such as the legacy of communism, authoritarianism, and intraregional cooperation, in the economic development and reform of Central Asia.

What was the key idea of putting the book together, who are the authors, which countries and key topics covered in this book?

The idea of putting together a book came about at the bi-annual conference of Australasian Association of Communist and Post-communist Studies (AACAPS), which we hosted at Griffith University early in 2019. As conference took place in the year when we marked the occasion of 30 years since the fall of the Berlin wall, it was natural that marking the occasion became the main theme of the event. Our goal was to bring together researchers from the Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world to share their research on Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, Central Asia and North Asia. With a diverse paths communist and post-communist countries took since the collapse of the Berlin wall, we were interested to hear the stories across the region on how communism and post-communism have been tracking.  We had a good turnout at the conference with a range of topics of our interest representing all major communist/post-communist countries. There, at the conference, Dr. Gennadi Kazakevitch from Monash University proposed that we prepare a submission for a book volume. I should note that this as not the first book volume, which came out from one of the conferences. Our colleagues, Stephen Fish, Graeme Gill and Milenko Petrovic a few years back published the volume A Quarter Century of Post-Communism Assessed. We thought it was a good idea continuing this nice tradition.

Fig 1  Alexandr Akimov speaking at the AACAPS 2019 conference

Fig 2 Book contributors and other conference participants at AACAPS 2019 conference (photo credit Griffith University)

The book itself, published by Palgrave Macmillan, have a good coverage of disciplines and countries. First section has a focus on common themes for post-communism or broader regional issues, with papers from our distinguished colleagues, such as Leslie Holmes, Richard Pomfret, Gennadi Kazakevicth and Milenko Petrovic. Dr. Kazakevitch starts the book with the taxonomy of post-communist countries, Prof. Pomfret and Dr. Petrovic discuss the transition in Central Asia and South-Eastern Europe, whereas Prof. Holmes talks about the cross -border issue of organized crime in the whole region, including the largest countries in the region – Russia and China.

The second section was dedicated to the largest country in the region – Russia, and examines topics in international relations, media and energy security. We had a combination of established and emerging scholars contributing to this section. The fourth section of the book dug deeper into the history with parallels drawn in Russian revolution and perestroika, migration to Australia by Vietnamese and Yugoslav communities, Chinese and Soviet economic reforms and sociological journey of Zygmunt Baumann. Yet again, there has been a good mix of contributions from prominent and emerging scholars to this section.

The third section that would be of the most interest to the CESS members was dedicated to Central Asia. This region remains relatively under-researched in comparison to its European peers, therefore I was personally very happy that we had four papers in this section, three of them were looking at the various economic aspects of transition and one looking at language and ethnical aspects of legal reforms. Not surprisingly, the largest two countries in the region, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were dominant countries of focus in those papers. In particular, Alisher Ergashev investigated potential reasons for the lack of nutrition in Uzbekistan in his chapter ‘Money can’t buy me love but it can buy apples: an analysis of fruit and vegetable demand in Uzbekistan’. Jakhongir Kakhkharov and Muzaffar Ahunov, in their chapter ‘Squandering remittances income in conspicuous consumption?’, used household level data to examine the impact of remittances from Uzbek workers abroad on the household expenditure on food, consumables, health, education and traditional ceremonies. Aziz Ismatov, in his chapter ‘Equal citizenship, language, and ethnicity dilemmas in the context of the post-socialist legal reforms in Central Asia’ discussed whether citizenship law in Central Asian countries aimed at excluding or including ethnic minorities from the citizenships and thus reduced their rights and freedoms in these countries. Finally, there was my humble contribution to the book where I analysed why Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have not become Central Asian ‘Singapores’.

Your book has been published after 30 years of the fall of the Berlin wall, and in the book’s preface Graeme Gill states that the consequences of the fall of communism in 1989/91 are still with us today. What are the main passes and achievements that have been reached by the post-Communist countries globally? What are the key trajectories of the former members of the USSR and the Soviet bloc after three decades?

Graeme Gill is right that the consequences of communism are still with us. Many in the West, in the first decade of post-communism in Eastern Europe and ex-USSR, thought the communism is done and dusted and we will see the gradual dismantling of communist outposts in countries like China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea. As we know it has not happened. In China, communist party retained and strengthened its grip on power since the Xi Jinping became a leader. In many countries of ex-USSR, early free market reforms were partially reversed, and countries are run by some authoritarian and semi-authoritarian rulers. Even in the largest democracy in the world, USA, under Donald Trump, we saw a reversal of liberal free market ideas and push for protectionism and to a degree – authoritarianism.

The struggles between liberal democracy and authoritarianism, free markets and protectionism, individual rights vs society interests are still there.

In terms of achievements, we can say countries of Eastern Europe, who were able to join European Union, were the major beneficiaries. They were generally able to improve their standards of living, gain more economic and political freedoms, and opportunities for self-realisation. Those countries are generally committed to that Western liberal values, although we saw some reversals of those in countries like Hungary and Poland.  For people in former Soviet Union, it was a bit more of a mixed bag with opportunities for entrepreneurs, access to education and travel abroad for a part of population. However, there have been some inferior outcomes for more vulnerable communities with higher levels of inequality and poverty. Some post-communist countries have settled on the model with a combination of market forces and strong state intervention.

One phenomenal outcome among the communist/post-communist group was China. We all know that market reforms allowed China to leap forward in terms of economic development and improved social outcomes even without liberalisation in the political scene. The system proved to be rather liveable and may stay around for years to come.

Gennadi Kazakevitch shares a Cluster Analysis of the post-communist countries transition from planned to market economy. Could you briefly explain the concept of the clustering? We can find that Central Asian economies are spread across different clusters. What are the key reasons for such a trend?

The concept of clustering in Dr. Kazakevitch’s analysis is an attempt to form groupings of countries that share certain characteristics. In this work, indicators from the Economic Freedom survey, such as property rights, government integrity and corruption, government spending, business freedom, monetary freedom, international trade freedom, investment freedom and financial freedom are used as criteria for forming the clusters. Using statistical methodology, Dr. Kazakevitch was able to narrow the number of clusters to five. Central Asian countries were spread over three cluster. Kazakhstan was the only country from the region to appear in cluster 2, which represent countries that ‘more or less successfully built market economies, albeit with some limitations’. The limitations may include significantly higher proportion of grey and black economy, as well as corruption and tax evasion in comparison to developed Western economies. Cluster 3 contained many post-Soviet republics, including Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These group is described in the chapter as either authoritarian states or imperfect democracies with quasi-market economies. Finally, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were placed in Cluster 4, which is characterised by strong authoritarianism and a strong intervention of the state in most aspects of economic activity, apart from small business.

This classification is not surprising; Central Asian republics never really declared a goal of becoming liberal Western democracies. They modelled their economic management more in line with countries like Russian and China, both of which are in Cluster 3.

None of the Central Asian countries had previous history as independent states. A common perception in the 1990s was that their prospects for long-term survival were poor. Nevertheless, they have survived for over a quarter of a century. According to Richard Pomfret, what are the key factors that benefitted Central Asian countries? What are the key economic shocks that newly independent countries faced while in transition?

It is hard to pin a set of uniform factors for the whole region. The story of each country is unique. One reason might be that these newly independent countries were largely left to themselves. There have been no strong disruptive forces from major global and regional players. In four out of five republics, local elites were consolidated around the country leaders. The only exception is Tajikistan, which faced problems of Islamic fundamentalism and a civil war until Emomali Rakhmonov came to power. Economically, three out of five countries, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan had enough easily tradeable commodities to sustain themselves, such as oil, gas, other mineral resources, agricultural commodities, such as grain and cotton. The economies of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were hit harder. They had to rely on economic support from Russia and to a degree from Kazakhstan and try to develop strong economic ties with China.  Culturally, in four out of five Central Asian republics the population was rather homogeneous, with large ethic majorities of indigenous people. That, to a degree, helped to reduce the probability of ethnic conflicts. The only exception was inter- ethnic conflict in Southern Kyrgyzstan where large Uzbek community resides. Finally, some credit should be given to skillful leadership in countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and in Kyrgyzstan, particularly in difficult 1990s.

The major economic shocks were the immediate years of post-independence when economic ties between the republics of ex-USSR were cut. It took few years for the policy-makers in the countries to get a firm grip on economic management and set reform agendas. Further challenges accompanied Russian and Asian crises at the end of 1990s, where we saw some reform reversals. In 2000s, GFC was certainly a significant test for all economies in the region. Interestingly, closed economies such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan weathered the storm better than more open Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Finally, current Covid-19 pandemic provides even greater economic challenge to the global economies, including economies in the region. We know that political career of Kyrgyz president Sooronbayev became a first casualty of the pandemic induced economic crisis in the region.

Despite the geographic closeness, cultural and common historic ties there is still weak intra-regional cooperation among Central Asian economies. Why and what could be done to improve the situation?

There are several objective and subjective reasons for relatively low level of intra-regional cooperation. For economic relations and trade, the key driver is complementarity of goods and services countries produce. In other words, if two countries are to trade, they should be able to offer to each other something that the other wants but does not have. Historically the regions have developed somewhat similar economic structures, which limit opportunities to trade, and even make the countries competitors. For example, Tajikistan agricultural produce is also grown in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, South Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and on a smaller scale Uzbekistan sell oil, gas and other mineral resources to the world market. Still, there are many opportunities that remain untapped. This includes potential for more cooperation in energy, transport, smaller scale manufacturing and construction, food processing and textiles. On a political level, the key condition for stronger ties in the region were arguable relationships between two largest countries in the region – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. However, political rivalry between two ex-Presidents might have played a role why the region has never spoke in a unison. There are some positive emerging trends though, particularly after Mirziyoyev took over leadership in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s relationships with its neighbors have been gradually improving in the last few years, which is promising for intra-regional cooperation.

In the chapter that you authored, you are exploring why Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan did not reach the level of Singapore’s development, as it was the benchmark set up by the heads of these two countries. Could you please explain what made these two countries prefer Singapore’s way of transition to market economy in the first place, and not the traditional “Western” path? What are the conditions that pre-existed in Singapore to become successful in their transition and was not present in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan?

In my chapter, I have never asked a question why the countries aspired to follow Singapore’s development path rather focusing on how they tried to achieve it and what have been achieved.  It is a very good question though, which I will try to answer. A good way to start with is to look what Uzbek and Kazakh leaders said early in their presidency.  Karimov in his 1992 work Uzbekistan: Its Way of Revival and Progress argued for gradual transition to market economy and democracy and emphasized a strong executive power as key for successful implementation of reforms.  Thus, he was dismissive of Polish style shock therapy and liberal democracy, suggesting that people are not ready for this and it will take long-time for mentality to change. Nazarbayev in his autobiographic 2006 book The Kazakhstan Way argued that post-communist transition after the dissolution of the USSR has been a unique process, with no similar historical precedents. The closest experience, he argued, was post-colonial independence of South-East Asian countries, where Singapore stood as a best example of success in building a developed independent state. Both those points, I believe, are the valid points. Eastern European countries that chose rapid transition to capitalism and democratic reforms had an experience of being capitalist countries before World War II with appropriate institutions to support market economy. In contrast, neither Kazakhstan nor Uzbekistan, had a historical experience to lean on. There has been no history of protection of private property rights, no independent courts or legislation that would enforce it, the population with no knowledge on how to exercise its democratic rights. In those circumstances, rapid democratization and shock therapy could lead to a chaos and/or the ‘wild west’ style of capitalism we saw in Russia. Therefore, gradual transition with strong central powers were much more acceptable among the population. In addition, personal ambitions of both leaders to become historical figures also played an important role. One of the advantages Singapore had over both countries was the fact that they did inherit functioning institutions to support the market economy. Lee Kuan Yew and his team had to skillfully use those institutions to promote the strategic development. Another advantage Singapore had over both countries was its geographical location. As a city port, it could relatively smoothly re-focus its trade relationship in line with its priorities. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan do not have access to a seaport. Considering the Afghan conflict, they had no choice but to work with Russia and China as logistical transits for their import/export operations. Since Russia was itself in disarray and west-east infrastructure in China was relatively underdeveloped, the diversification was a rather challenging task. Finally, the fact that Singapore is a small city-state also mattered. The transformation process was much more manageable.

Despite the failure to become “Central Asian Singapore” in 25 years, could you highlight what has been achieved relative to this “benchmark” and what could be done to improve the situation?

Neither Uzbekistan nor Kazakhstan were able to achieve level of socio-economic progress and prosperity we saw in Singapore for a range of objective and subjective reasons. However, some achievements worth highlighting. Linking to your early comment, the fact that both countries have survived the difficult years without major confrontations or civil unrest is already an important achievement. Both countries have recorded impressive economic growth rates since 2000s with a resultant higher average level of economic prosperity, especially in Kazakhstan. Citizens in both countries acquired certain level of civil liberties, including starting their own business and an opportunity to travel/study/live abroad.

What could have been done better? Neither of the countries were able to move away from corruption, cronyism and nepotism. Coupled with relatively low and ineffective investments in education in both countries, this led to much less competitive workforce critical in the modern global economy. We know that Lee saw a strong system of meritocracy in Singapore to be a key ingredient of success. The proper functioning institutions for market economy are also yet to be established, although Kazakhstan is more advanced in this regard. Political interferences are still endemic, especially in Uzbekistan. Notably that current Uzbek leadership highlights the issue as one of the priorities that need fixing. Finally, the economic strategies both countries adopted can also be questioned. Kazakhstan has over-relied on its natural endowment and was largely unable to build any internationally competitive industries apart from mining. Uzbekistan has erroneously focused on import-substitution policy, which also led to creation of some inefficient and government subsidized industries and enterprises, which would not survive the test of time. More open economic policy together with structural reforms should help to change the tides.

New Publication: At Ahura Mazda’s Throne, by Vladimir Karasev

Editor’s note: We present here a brief overview of a new publication by Vladimir Karasev, currently available in Russian language:

“Среди величайших религий мира Зороастризм выделяется своей духовно-нравственной философией, которая вроде и присуща всем мировым религиям, но в тоже время настолько своеобразна, что покоряет мгновенно каждого, кто заинтересовано обратит на неё свой взор. Покоряет простотой понятия Добра и Зла, Правды и Лжи, Света и Тьмы. Ведь в глубине сознания каждого человека теплится невысказанная мысль о творении всего сущего на земле.” (description from the author’s website here, where the volume is also available for purchase).

Vladimir Karasev is one of the well-known archeologists active across the Central Asian and Altai regions as well as Crimea over the past three decades, who worked to excavate Soghdian and Scythian sites among others; his total work comprises over 150 expeditions.  Karasev has lived primarily in Uzbekistan, where he dedicated his career and work to the project of cultural heritage and sites protection.  This work was not always easy, nor supported by the state in either Soviet or post-Soviet times, either for ideological or practical financial reasons.  Karasev’s life-work has been to work beyond the boundaries of political limitations, to bring the rich and multi-faceted cultural history of Central Asia to a global stage.

Here we present the author’s prologue and introduction to At Ahura Mazda’s Throne, republished with permission.

We are grateful and give our special thanks to Ksenia Ilushina, in preparing these materials for the blog.

***

У  ТРОНА  АХУРА  МАЗДЫ

(ТРАКТАТ О ЗОРОАСТРИЗМЕ В ЦЕНТРАЛЬНОЙ АЗИИ)

КНИГА ПЕРВАЯ

ПЛАМЯ ЗАРАТУШТРЫ

ПРОЛОГ

Азия! Самое будничное и обычное слово для всех жителей Старого Света. Рыбаки из аравийской Джидды, забрасывающие сети в Красное море и такие же ловцы Анадырского залива с Чукотского полуострова, их коллеги с острова Кюсю, Сингапура и цейлонского Коломбо обязательно скажут о себе: «Я азиат!». Потому, что для большей части всего человечества не существует другого мира, а только Азия – пространство, которое равно по площади обоим Америкам.

Менее пятисот лет назад, для любого азиата не существовало другого мира кроме Азии, да ещё ничтожного как по размерам, так и по значению придатка к ней  – Европы. По их мнению, Европа была  дикой, там  живут «варвары, делающие всё не так как у людей…».

Деление мира на Восток и Запад, как любят об этом муссировать европейские учёные и писатели, для азиата просто смешны. И с этим, пожалуй, нельзя не согласиться. Ведь для жителя Японии, Кореи или Камчатки   – Ближний Восток, это очень далёкий Запад.

Потому, что, даже прогрессивный израильтянин или турок, просто не имеют морального права утверждать, что он представитель «западной» – европейской культуры.

Несмотря на то, что самые древние цивилизации человечества, за исключением египетской,  родились и выросли в азиатской «колыбели», ещё всего-то сто лет назад, эта часть света считалась таинственной и загадочной для любого просвещённого и культурного европейца. Экспедиции, отправлявшиеся туда, обрекали себя на непреодолимые трудности, лишения и, подчас, гибель.

Но какое великое озарение охватывало исследователей, которые открывали для себя и «просвещённого мира» загадочную Азию! Закрытые аравийские, китайские, тибетские и индийские города потрясали воображение. Для исследователя открывалась иная философия, иной культурный облик, который казался знакомым и близким, как родные пенаты, взрастившие и воспитавшие первые представления о мире. От этого веяло такой изнывающей ностальгией, что европейские читатели и слушатели рассказов об этих открытиях, считали Азию очень понятной и духовно близкой. Именно это стало настоящей катастрофой для интеллектуальной Европы!

Подобно эпидемии беспощадного гриппа умы европейцев стали захватывать изотерические учения псевдо-восточных мудрецов. Бесчисленные сонмы новоявленных магов, просветлённых провидцев, духовных факиров заполонили богемные салоны, театры и дома добропорядочных граждан Европы. Даже великолепный Сэр Артур Конан Дойль, буквально сходил с ума в своих спиритических теориях и экспериментах. Во всех аристократических салонах «мудрой Европы» появлялись толпы толкователей и провидцев, спешащих поведать Истину, спрятанную между строк в священных писаниях самых разных народов. Библия становиться объектом занимательного и романтического чтения с последующими обсуждениями в кружках, где просто витала насыщенная и осязаемая атмосфера  изотерических спекуляций.

Потрясённые открывающимися громадами пространств восточной изотерики, лучшие представители интеллигенции тамошнего мира, опрометчиво, но в то же время и самоотверженно бросались в этот губительный океан. С упорством, которое под силу только параноикам, новоявленные «просветители и миссии», а, по сути, – банальные шарлатаны и ловкие мошенники, изображали из себя учителей (гуру), «познавших всю глубину философского наследия Востока». Конечно, это был обязательный этап, через который проходит каждая научная мысль во времени первоначального становления, в моменты появления грядущих научных эпох. Как любой коллекционер, начинает сбор вожделенных предметов с простого численного накопительства, постепенно обретая опыт и познавая ценность своего занятия, так и новые научные течения, пробиваются через труднопроходимые тернии к широким просторам чистых морей знания.

Прародиной всех крупнейших мировых религий – от иудаизма, с библейскими пророками просветлённых, до бурятских ламаистов со своей изощренной философией, все они были детищами необозримых просторов Азии.

Это, несомненно, должно было возбуждать любопытство и воображение экзальтированных «пифий» новомодных объединений и кружков в Европе. В то же время, для десятков учёных открывались новые и неведомые горизонты познания истории культуры человечества…

«Сердцем Азии» всегда считался Памир – горная система, которая, по мнению азиатов, была «Крышей мира». Он располагается в самой центральной области этой части света. Здесь же – у его подножья, раскинулась и Великая Туранская низменность, на которой сейчас уютно устроились современные Узбекистан и части Таджикистана, Киргизия, Казахстан и Туркменистан. Эти страны, образовались в результате политический коллизий, кипевших на этой территории в последнее столетие, хотя бурлящие потоки передвижения громадных масс народов «терзают» эти пространства уже более трёх тысячелетий.

Истинные пророки истинных религий родились в Азии, где и проповедовали свои откровения. Одной из таких величайших монотеистических религий человечества был Зороастризм.

Практически все учёные-религиоведы (О! Как уничижительно насмешливо звучит это определение – «вед»!) утверждали без сомнения, что эта религия зороастрийцев и её пророк родились в Иране. Но, как мы увидим, истины в этом не больше, чем в утверждениях известной в Х1Х веке мадам Елены фон Ган, ставшей впоследствии Блаватской, которая в новомодных салонах и домах российской аристократии, убеждала простофиль и экзальтированных истеричек в том, что именно она является последней реинкарнацией Гаутамы Просветлённого! Эта, пророчествующая «ведунья», не имела ни малейшего представления о буддийских философских  притчах, в одной из которых говориться: «Как-то, у ближайшего из учеников и последователей Будды спросили о том, что надо делать, если встретишь Будду на дороге? Мудрец ответил –  убей его, ибо истинный Будда находится всегда внутри тебя!». Но Европа, казалась ничтожной и не понимающей её великого «космического» учения. Устроившись в штате Вермонт, она в 1875 году создаёт первое в США теософское Общество. Затем, пишет книгу «Разоблачение Изиды», которая совершенно не потрясла прагматичных и целеустремлённых американцев. Обиженная изотеричка, собрав громадные чемоданы набитые «цивилизованным» барахлом, приплыла обратно в европейское «убожество».

Report Announcement: Central Asia’s Horticulture Sector: Capitalizing on New Export Opportunities in Chinese and Russian Markets, by Kateryna Schroeder and Sergiy Zorya

(Editor’s note:  We are happy to re-share this blog with permission, which was originally posted at World Bank Blogs in both English and Russian, the links are here.  There are links here below to the original report on fruit exports in Central Asia.)

English   https://blogs.worldbank.org/europeandcentralasia/how-fruit-can-boost-economic-development-central-asia

Russian  https://blogs.worldbank.org/ru/europeandcentralasia/how-fruit-can-boost-economic-development-central-asia

Ask any tourist visiting Central Asia what they love about the region and, among other responses, you are likely to hear about their mouth-watering experience eating fresh, tasty fruits and berries. This is not surprising, as the region is home to some 300 wild fruit and nut species.

What is surprising is that the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan currently realize only about one-third of their export potential in cherries, grapes, apricots, and plums—fresh fruits in which they hold a comparative advantage.

There is enormous potential to increase Central Asian fruit exports, thus boosting economic growth, generating employment (horticulture requires at least twice as much labor as cereal crops!), and creating opportunities for income generation in rural areas. All of these would be very welcome developments amidst dwindling GDP growth across the region.

Exporting to China: large market, many hurdles

Chinese markets create a particularly lucrative opportunity for Central Asian fruit suppliers to grow their exports. The country’s increasingly more affluent and educated consumers continue to shift their dietary preferences to include more protein, fruit, and vegetables. This contributes to a rapid growth in fruit import demand, which by 2030 is expected to reach $2.7 billion——a huge opportunity for Central Asian farmers.

Although the Central Asian countries are well placed to be more competitive in satisfying China’s growing demand for fruit imports, entering the formidable Chinese fresh fruit markets is not  easy.

China has rather stringent food safety standards. Imported produce must be consistent in both quality and volume, which requires sophisticated quality and logistics systems that the Central Asian countries have yet to develop.

Moreover, Chinese fruit markets are highly fragmented and competitive, so importers need to have a close relationship with a Chinese counterpart on the ground. And Chinese consumers value attractive packaging and products with recognizable brands.

Most Central Asian fruit producers are small farmers with limited access to financial and knowledge resources, which results in constrained production volumes and inconsistent supply quality. Although perfectly adjusted to trading domestically, Central Asia’s small-scale producers lack the capacity necessary to meet the bureaucratic and procedural conformity of international markets.

At the government level, the quality and capacity of the region’s food and safety systems, customs control, and inspection bodies do not meet the requirements of Chinese markets, putting its exporters at a disadvantage vis-à-vis major suppliers to China, such as Chile or the United States. Moreover, Central Asian exporters are often unaware of the available opportunities provided by Chinese markets and of the requirements to enter them.

As a result, China still accounts for only a tiny, albeit growing, share of total Central Asian fruit exports. And those Central Asian exporters that do enter Chinese markets face significantly lower price premiums compared to their competitors.

Similar hurdles are emerging in the traditional markets

Currently, more than 85 percent of Central Asian exports of cherries, grapes, apricots, and plums are shipped to Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. However, even in these traditional markets, Central Asian exporters are losing out on existing opportunities, receiving prices 30 percent less than those enjoyed by the competitors.

Why is this happening?

Most Central Asian fruits are largely sold in open-air markets. Yet, sales of fruits through modern grocery store chains in Russia have been growing at an accelerated pace, often at the expense of traditional retail markets. Central Asian fruit suppliers are scarcely present in Russian formal retail stores, as they are often unable to provide produce with the quality, assortment, and packaging that is in accordance with Russian retailer needs and volumes.

Other factors that impede Central Asian farmers from receiving better prices in traditional markets are the high fragmentation of production, the informality and non-transparency of the region’s fruit supply chains, and both producers’ and exporters’ lack of knowledge of, and compliance with, retail requirements.

So what is the way forward?

To be competitive in Chinese and other evolving global fresh fruit markets, in which large modern retail chains play an ever-increasing role, Central Asian exporters need to be able to supply large volumes of fruit of consistently high quality in a timely manner.

National governments have a role to play in creating an enabling environment for the increased production and export capacity of horticulture products by tackling the most binding constraints that exist in the sector.

First, governments can provide a policy environment that facilitates cooperation among Central Asian smallholders. This way, the farmers will be able to consistently supply the large volumes of quality fruit required by importers.

Second, governments need to focus on promoting private investments in cold chain storage and post-harvest processing capacity and on investing in public goods, such as food safety and quality control systems, R&D, and export promotion.

Finally, the rapid growth of e-commerce around the world offers an opportunity for Central Asian exporters to penetrate new and growing markets in their region and beyond. Governments should do more, therefore, to promote the digital development of their respective agriculture sectors.


To learn more, read the World Bank report “Central Asia’s Horticulture Sector: Capitalizing on New Export Opportunities in Chinese and Russian Markets,” which analyzes opportunities for Central Asian fresh fruit exports in Chinese and higher-end Russian markets, and provides policy recommendations on how to take advantage of these opportunities.

The report is available in both English and Russian languages.

Announcing the publication of Vol. 17 (2019) of The Silk Road, an open-access online journal published by the Silk Road House.

All articles for the latest issue can be accessed at: https://edspace.american.edu/silkroadjournal/volume-17-2019/

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Did Richthofen Really Coin “the Silk Road”?
Matthias Mertens

An Interview with Roderick Whitfield on the Stein Collection in the British Museum

Sonya S. Lee

Faces of the Buddha: Lorenzo Pullè and the Museo Indiano in Bologna, 1907-35

Luca Villa

Knotted Carpets from the Taklamakan: A Medium of Ideological and Aesthetic Exchange on the Silk Road, 700 BCE-700 CE

Zhang He

Some Notes on Sogdian Costume in Early Tang China

Sergey A. Yatsenko

An Analysis of Modern Chinese Colophons on the Dunhuang Manuscripts

Justin M. Jacobs

Camel Fairs in India: A Photo Essay

Harvey Follender

BOOK REVIEWS

Robert N. Spengler III, Fruit from the Sands: The Silk Road Origins of the Food We Eat

Susan Whitfield

Thomas T. Allsen, The Steppe and the Sea: Pearls in the Mongol Empire

Samuel Rumschlag

Roman Hautala, Crusaders, Missionaries, and Eurasian Nomads in the 13th-14th Centuries

Charles J. Halperin

István Zimonyi, Medieval Nomads in Eastern Europe

Charles J. Halperin

Baumer and Novák, eds., Urban Cultures of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Karakhanids

Barbara Kaim

– Justin M. Jacobs, Editor (jjacobs@american.edu)

We are pleased to announce the publication of Vol. 16 (2018) of The Silk Road, an open-access online journal published by the Silkroad Foundation.

The latest volume of The Silk Road brings the production of fresh knowledge and dissemination of exciting new discoveries derived from the lands and peoples who continue to animate the historical rubric of the Silk Road. Our excursion through place and time begins with a fascinating archaeological report by Marina Kulinovskaia and Pavel Leus on recently excavated Xiongnu graves in Tuva, lavishly illustrated with nearly fifty color photographs from the field.

From the first article on Xiongnu graves in Tuva (Fig. 49), a richly adorned tomb of a female corpse with a striking turquoise belt buckle.  Image used with permission from Justin Jacobs.

We are then treated to Jin Noda’s analysis of Japanese intelligence agents in Russian and Qing Inner Asia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Next up is Zhang Zhan’s in-depth reassessment of ancient Sogdian documents from Khotan and what they can tell us about the status and occupations of these far-flung travelers during the first millennium CE. Zhang’s philological analysis is followed by Li Sifei’s investigation into the complex subject of Chinese perceptions of “Persians” and “Sogdians” during the Northern Zhou, Sui, and Tang dynasties. Marina Rodionova and Iakov Frenkel’ then encourage us to transfer our attention to the other, far less popularized end of the Silk Road, with a detailed case study of how a Mongol-era Chinese celadon made its way to the Novgorod Kremlin in Russia.

The Mongol backdrop plays an even more important role in Samuel Rumschlag’s sophisticated comparison of bow, saddle, and stirrup technology among different nomadic polities throughout Eurasian history. Finally, we have Matteo Compareti’s creative reading of the literary and artistic influences to be found in the painted programs of the great eastern Iranian hero Rustam in the Blue Hall at Panjikent. The issue concludes with reviews of two recent and important books by Susan Whitfield and Donald S. Lopez, Jr., along with detailed notices of other new books compiled—as generously and meticulously as before—by our former editor Daniel Waugh. In addition, Daniel Waugh has also contributed in innumerable other ways to the production of this volume, not least of which were his expert translations into English of the two articles originally co-authored in Russian.

Justin M. Jacobs, Editor

American University

Image of cover used here with permission of Justin Jacobs