25 Years of Rural Development in post-Soviet Central Asia: Sustaining Inequalities

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To show that post-Soviet rural development in Central Asia has been confronted with sustained inequalities, three particular factors are analysed in this paper have being viewed as fundamental in influencing national and rural development. Firstly, most countries have based their growth models on economic nationalism (not only creating borders and national institutions, but also choosing inward-looking strategies), while leaning one-sidedly on their natural resource wealth (carbohydrates such as oil, natural gas and minerals, but also industrial crops like cotton). Secondly, and related to the first explanatory factor, the region has been struck by hidden and open resource-based conflicts, in particular on land and water. Inter-state tensions have emerged, in particular between downstream (irrigation water dependent) countries, such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and the upstream (hydropower energy dependent, and carbohydrate-poor) ones, such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Thirdly, all the countries analysed here have followed a rather unequal capital city-centric growth model, using the proceeds of exports of mineral wealth (or cotton) for rapid urbanisation with little or no investment in rural development, resulting in a growing urban-rural divide and increasing rural-urban and cross-border migration. While it is recognised that this region is indeed a bridge between West and East (also re-emphasised by the Chinese ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative), it is argued in this paper that there is a need to reduce these inequalities and unbalanced growth, being that they will be an obstacle to the sustainable growth and development of rural areas.

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