By Suresh Hanubal
Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country of 30 million that is perhaps best known for being within the same general vicinity of Kazakhstan of Borat fame, has as of late been enjoying a fruit export bonanza, even as the overall global economy experiences its worst economic decline since the Great Depression.
Melons, long a Uzbekistani delicacy, have had a banner season this year. The State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan reporting that nearly 11,500 tons of the fruit variety have already been exported from the landlocked nation. Traditional consumers of the savory fruits, including Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, have in recent years been joined by consumers as far afield as Belarus and the European Union. For example, for the first time ever the Netherlands has imported nearly 20 tons of melons from the most magnanimous Republic of Uzbekistan. This may be an indicator of Uzbekistan’s improving economic export situation, or perhaps a shift in global consumer preferences towards melons.
As Eurasianet reports, Uzbekistan is in many ways a country of melons. 56 varieties are grown within the country, with some of the most famous among them being the country’s indigenous Gurvak variety, as well as the frequently exported Mirzachul variety. The Gurvak, able to be grown only in Uzbekistan’s northwestern Khorezm region, and unable to be sent abroad due to its quick spoiling time, is prized for its sweet and juicy taste, and a lifesaver (and sweet treat) in an area of the world that otherwise suffers from water shortages and increasing aridity from the ever-encroaching Kyzylkum desert.
This surge in melon exports comes at an opportune time for Uzbek farmers, as the Asian Development Bank projects that the post-Soviet nation’s economy will expand by only 0.5% this year. For a country at Uzbekistan’s development stage, roughly similar to that of India and the Philippines when looking at median per capita income, this is disastrous and threatens to take back years of economic gains. Thus, the increased sums that melon farmers have gained from this melon bonanza is that much sweeter.
As 2021 approaches, the question that Uzbek bureaucrats at state ministries of economic development and foreign consular officials stationed in the former Soviet states and the European Union should be asking themselves, is how to harness this melon power to sustainably grow the country well into the future. As demonstrated by incessant foreign demand for Uzbekistan’s scrumptious oval fruits, melon exports can have a major impact on the country’s future agricultural export policy. Consumers in the European Union, the former USSR, and elsewhere are hungry for sweetness in this time of mass misery and human displacement, and willing to pay a hefty price for a fruit that delivers.