Every morning Ergash Holmatov has tea with his extended family. He breaks Uzbek bread, "non," made with wheat he has grown. Holmatov thinks there is nothing in the world tastier than bread that comes from his own farm close to the capital Tashkent.
Five years ago, when agricultural cooperatives were abolished and private farms established, Holmatov decided to become a farmer. He got 72 hectares of irrigated land, and started growing wheat. It was not an easy transition for the former accountant.
"When we got the land, we faced a lot of problems as the equipment we had was old and often broke down. We lacked plows and equipment to treat the land before sowing plants," he says.
He wanted to buy a new tractor for 99 million Uzbek sum, or about $60,000, but did not have the capital and could not afford payments on a conventional bank loan.
"Then I heard that the World Bank-financed Rural Enterprise Support project could help with purchase of machinery, but I would need to develop a business plan. I prepared my business plan and submitted it to Microcreditbank," he explains.
With the loan, he and his son Ulugbek bought the tractor. Ulugbek—also an accountant with few farm skills—took tractor driving courses. The Holmatovs now cultivate their own land and also earn money by using their tractor on farms that don't have machinery. "In 2011, we earned about 20 million Uzbek sums from these services. This is helping us pay the interest on our loan," says Ergash Holmatov.
New private farms like the Holmatovs' are benefiting from a $68 million project supported by the World Bank that was initiated to increase farmers' productivity and profitability. The Rural Enterprise Support Project gives credit lines to local commercial banks, which in turn lend to farmers. In addition to teaching farmers how to work with banks, the project is training farmers to run a business and apply new agricultural techniques. It is also improving irrigation and drainage, which is crucial in a country with scarce water resources.
World Bank credit lines differ from those provided by local commercial banks. They are longer term, up to ten years, including a three year grace period. Major local banks provide credit only for three years. And unlike other loans which are issued only in Uzbek sums, these funds are loaned in either sums or US dollars, which allows farmers to buy equipment outside the country. Local banks benefit from the low interest rate and long repayment term and are able to increase their number of loans.