Middle Asian Economic Region

Middle Asian Economic Region


(Middle Asia), one of the major economic regions of the USSR. Encompassing the Uzbek, Kirghiz, Tadzhik, and Turkmen SSR’s, the Middle Asian Economic Region occupies an area of 1.3 million sq km, or 5.7 percent of the USSR’s territory. In 1975 it had 22.9 million inhabitants, or 9 percent of the country’s population.

A characteristic feature of the Middle Asian Economic Region is its multinational population. The region has the highest birthrate and fastest growing population of any of the USSR’s economic regions. Its large labor resources have facilitated the development of labor-intensive sectors of industry. Since 1913 the urban population has increased 6.5 times, accounting for 39 percent of the region’s total population in 1975. Almost half of the urban population lives in small towns and urban-type settlements. Five cities have more than 250,000 inhabitants—Tashkent, Frunze, Dushanbe, Samarkand, and Ashkhabad.

Fundamental changes in the region’s economy occurred during the building of socialism. Formerly a backward colonial hinterland with primitive irrigation farming and nomadic herding, the Middle Asian Economic Region became one of the country’s rapidly developing industrial and agricultural regions. Today, its industry contributes roughly 55 percent of the gross social product and more than 40 percent of the national income. Between 1913 and 1974 its industrial output increased 70 times.

In the national division of labor, the Middle Asian Economic Region is known primarily as the country’s cotton center. The nucleus of the region’s economy, accounting for more than 30 percent of its industrial output, is the cotton industry complex, which includes cotton growing, cotton processing, and the industrial sectors that provide the technical means for the development of cotton growing. The region produces 90 percent of the country’s cotton fiber, 17 percent of its vegetable oil, all of its cotton-growing and roving machinery, more than 90 percent of its cotton ginning equipment, 28 percent of its spinning machines, and more than 8 percent of its nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers, as well as a great deal of equipment for irrigation and earthwork. The region is the country’s second largest producer of cotton cloth, after the Central Zone, although its output still does not fully meet the needs of the region itself.

Another interindustrial complex, power engineering, is developing rapidly on the basis of the region’s rich gas, petroleum, and hydroelectric resources. The region is the USSR’s leading supplier of natural gas, producing 77.2 billion cu m in 1974, almost 30 percent of the country’s output. The largest gas fields are in the Uzbek and Turkmen SSR’s. In addition to steam power plants, large hydroelectric power plants serving the double purpose of irrigation and energy production are in operation or under construction (Nurek, Toktogul). The energy-intensive sectors of nonferrous metallurgy and organic synthesis are expanding.

In nonferrous metallurgy, the region excels in the production of antimony, mercury (the Kirghiz and Tadzhik SSR’s hold first and second place in the country), gold, copper, zinc, tungsten, and lead concentrates. An aluminum industry is developing in the Tadzhik SSR, and in the Turkmen SSR chemical enterprises are making use of such local raw materials as iodine and bromine, sulfur, and sodium sulphate.

The region’s machine-building industry produces, apart from equipment for the cotton complex, electrical equipment, cables, metal-cutting machine tools, chemical equipment, bridge cranes, and hay-harvesting machinery. Most of the machine-building enterprises are located in Tashkent and Frunze.

The major branches of light industry are the production of silk (the region ranks second after the Central Zone), carpets, and leather. The garment and footwear industries are growing rapidly. The food industry specializes in vegetable-oil production, fruit and vegetable processing, and wine-making.

The basic trend in the structure of industry is toward an increase in the proportion of heavy industry and a decline in the role of light and food industries, although the latter predominate when measured by absolute indexes of gross output (56 percent versus 44 percent).

Agriculture, including individual subsidiary farming, employed 40 percent of the entire work force in 1974. Crop cultivation accounted for two-thirds of the gross agricultural output in 1973, which was 3.5 times greater than the farm output of 1913. The region has 70 million hectares (ha) of agricultural land (1974), roughly 10 percent of which is arable. It also has more irrigated land than any of the other economic regions—5.3 million ha, or twice as much as in the prerevolutionary period. Judging by terrain and soil, up to 12 million additional ha can be irrigated (only 8–8.5 million ha with their own water resources) if there is a sharp improvement in water management. Further development of irrigation farming will necessitate diverting part of the discharge of the Siberian rivers.

Industrial crops occupy roughly two-fifths of the sown area. Cotton, the leading industrial crop, accounts for about 60 percent of the irrigated land and 45 percent of the agricultural output. Since the prerevolutionary period the cotton yield has increased 2.5 times to 29.5 quintals per ha, and the harvest of raw cotton has increased more than 11 times, totaling 7.5 million tons in 1974, of which 5.3 million tons were produced in Uzbekistan. With the exception of rice and corn, cereals are raised primarily on unirrigated land. The region produces 90 percent of the nation’s raw cotton, 17 percent of its rice, and 22 percent of its tobacco. Grapes, fruit, melons, and vegetables have been raised in many large valleys since ancient times.

Constituting roughly nine-tenths of the agricultural land, the region’s pastures provide the basis for the development of sheep raising, a traditional occupation and now the region’s second (after cotton growing) area of agricultural specialization. In number of sheep (24.3 million as of Jan. 1, 1975) the region is exceeded only by Kazakhstan. Cattle are raised in the valleys. Sericulture has been practiced since ancient times. The Middle Asian Economic Region produces almost 55 percent of the country’s karakul, 16 percent of its wool, and 77 percent of its silkworm cocoons.

In 1974 the region had 6,000 km of railroads. All the economically developed and densely settled parts of the region are linked by a single rail network, which handles about 80 percent of the interregional and interrepublic passenger and freight traffic. Pipeline transport is also developing; gas pipelines connect the region with the Urals, southern Kazakhstan, and the Central Zone. Interregional transport is less important for the region than for the rest of the country. The largest amount of freight, roughly 30 percent, comes from Kazakhstan and includes coal, ferrous metals, grain, phosphorites, phosphate fertilizers, and cement. Eastern Siberia is the chief supplier of lumber, the main incoming freight in terms of weight. The region also imports a considerable amount from Western Siberia, the Urals (petroleum products, coal, rolled ferrous metals), and Transcaucasia.

The chief products shipped from the region are petroleum, certain petroleum products, and cotton fiber. Nonferrous and rare metals, cotton-seed oil, wool, sodium sulphate, and various types of machinery are also exported. Almost one-third of the exports are shipped via the Caspian Sea (the tanker fleet and Krasno-vodsk-Baku ferry line), and more than two-thirds travel by rail. The region has a negative transport balance: owing to the predominance of heavy incoming freight, imports exceed exports by 70–80 percent.

The development of specific economic sectors in each of the Union republics of Middle Asia has stimulated active intraregional ties, which account for almost two-thirds of the incoming and three-fourths of the outgoing rail freight. Motor vehicles are the chief means of transport in hauling passengers and freight within the Middle Asian republics, especially in mountainous areas. The region had a total of 55,700 km of paved roads in 1975.

Regional differences. The Middle Asian Economic Region may be divided into three parts: a valley and foothill zone, in which are found the bulk of the population, all the major cities, intensive agriculture, and manufacturing; a mountain zone, whose economy is based on livestock grazing and mining; and a desert zone, where karakul sheep are raised and gas and petroleum are extracted.


Sredniaia Aziia: Ekonomiko-geograficheskaia kharakteristika i problemy razvitiia khoziaistva. Moscow, 1969.
Sredneaziatskii ekonomicheskii raion. Moscow, 1972.


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