Saturday, August 7, 2010

Kolkhoz autonomy

This is Ashirmat, the village on the Turkmen border. That is, these are some of the old kolkhoz buildings. Right now, they function as offices and storage space for the water user association, the machine tractor park -two successor organizations- and the fire brigade. Thursday, we had a very interesting conversation there, with a gentlemen who remembered the old collective farm in great detail. He told a story about enormous pressures to develop irrigated agriculture, but also of remarkable local autonomy. Each kolkhoz had a similar hierarchy, with an elected chief, the head agronomist, a local party representative and the shura -a traditional village elder- making up the elite; some people would add the bookkeeper, a hydrotechnician, and the brigadiers, teamleaders responsible for a section of the farm. But, management style and decision- making varied considerably among farms and over time, something enabled by a generally weak district administration.

An interesting figure in this regard is the zemlemer, a combination of cadastre man, land surveyor and planner in one. He kept a registry of the lands, their use, value, and measured everything. Where the kolkhoz chief was not too domineering and the rest of the crowd not too rowdy, he could also decide what goes where, in other words, he also planned settlements, roads, the smaller canals, and everything else. District planners had little say in this. Now, they are in charge. The cadastre established after independence moved to the districts, and became highly politicized because of the intimate connection with farm privatization and assignment of land use rights.

[Yesterday evening, Friday, we finally had a Georgian- style shashlik event, at a local restaurant; when we left, heaps of skewers signaled a successful bacchanal. After which we moved to the local disco, for intelligent conversation and classic techno. The dj's repeated yells 'ZEF UNESCO!' made us feel like celebrities; envious glances filled the room. On the way back, we managed somehow to fit 9 people in a very small car, serving as taxi. This morning, a collective hangover in the guest house, but the productivity is still there, it seems.]


  1. It sounds like you are getting the vibe in your research. It is interesting to read about the pressure to develop irrigated agriculture. Reminds me of the book of Frank Westerman (somewhere in the same region). Turning the desert in to fertile soil...

    I think we can also learn form this Cadastre system, they have so much knowledge and should be more important if it comes to spatial planning! Maybe we can suggest a more important role for the Cadastre as an innovation for the Dutch system (problably the do better than the doctrine planners).

  2. Thank you for the compliment. It is not always easy here, but we keep going like the mule, if that is an english expression...
    And yes, Westerman is an inspiration. This area saw even more dramatic change than the eastern Caspian he was writing about, but here we miss the story of Russian writers hanging around.