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03 september 2017, 09:10
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President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has chaired a republican conference on the development of tea, rice and citrus fruits production in Lankaran.

The head of state made an opening speech at the event.

Opening speech of President Ilham Aliyev

- At today's meeting, we will discuss issues related to the development of the production of tea, rice and citrus in our country. I am glad that attention to these sectors has enhanced in recent years thanks to state support. This is very gratifying. In general, each branch of agriculture is very important for us, and the attention shown to this sphere in recent years is yielding fruit.

Of course, first of all we had to resolve the issue of food security, and very important steps have been taken in this direction. Along with this, we had to develop all traditional branches of agriculture. In fact, the main goal of the 2004 State Program on Socioeconomic Development of Regions was to develop them, implement infrastructure projects in the regions, create conditions for entrepreneurship and diversify the country's economic development. Today, we can say with full confidence that we have achieved these goals. There can be no development without the infrastructure. Therefore, the state programs on socioeconomic development of the regions adopted in 2004 and then in 2009 and 2014 were very specific. As a result of the implementation of those programs in all our regions, there was rapid development in every district, and this development continues today.

Over these years, we have laid the foundation for our economic development. When we started to implement the program, the infrastructure created in Azerbaijan earlier was already obsolete. We could not provide ourselves with electricity and gas, and relied on imports. Under such circumstances, there could be no talk of developing industry and agriculture. In the first place, we created the basis for development. In recent years, we have built more than 20 power plants. We not only provide ourselves now, but also export electricity to foreign countries.

Gasification in Azerbaijan was at a very low level. I remember coming to Lankaran District in 2000, on the eve of the parliamentary election. At that time, at meetings with local people, the issue of the lack of natural gas was raised most often. I remember those days. However, today about 90 per cent of Lankaran District has been gasified. Gasification in the country reached 93 per cent. In the coming years, gasification work will be continued in all our regions. We have started to export natural gas, and the currency so necessary for our country is now coming in.

In recent years, we have built more than 11,000 kilometers of roads. We also opened several road projects yesterday. These roads connect all the regions with each other. Work related to highways, main roads, roads creating a link with neighboring countries and with rural roads has gained great momentum. These are social and at the same time economic projects. The farmers and entrepreneurs are well aware that there can be no talks of development without roads. A good road gives a major impetus to the development of both agriculture and tourism. We saw this quite clearly today. In short, we created modern infrastructure in previous years to facilitate rapid economic development and so that we could develop further on this foundation.

In parallel, great attention has been paid to social infrastructure issues. Of course, this is also very important. I have always said this and want to note again that all our work and policies are centered on the people Azerbaijan. The people of Azerbaijan should live well, but there should be opportunities for that. Therefore, the solution of social problems, in particular, issues related to education and health, have always been a priority for us. Over the past few years, more than 3,000 schools and over 600 medical centers have been established, and today they are serving our people. At the same time, the conditions created in the regions also prevent migration to large cities. We already see that the migration from all the regions to Baku which was observed in previous years has now declined and the reverse process has started. People are returning from cities to villages, because excellent opportunities have been created for the development of agriculture.

I would like to note again that if we had not allocated large funds for infrastructure projects in good time, this development would not be so rapid now. In recent years, we have achieved a sharp reduction in unemployment in the country, and Azerbaijan is in one of the leading places in the world in this respect. Unemployment in Azerbaijan is at about 5 per cent, especially today, when there is such development and so much is being invested in agriculture. In the last two years, thousands of public jobs have been created, and whoever wants to work will find a job. The fact that we have created more than 1.6 million jobs is also a sign and manifestation of our policy.

Very important measures have been taken to facilitate the work of farmers and entrepreneurs. First of all, it was necessary to provide them with material resources. And we are doing that. In recent years, the state has provided entrepreneurs with concessional loans worth more than 2 billion manats, and entrepreneurs also invested their money, of course. As a result of this initiative, about 4 billion manats were invested in the real sector of the country's economy, perhaps even more. The loans are mainly allocated to the regions, to agriculture and the processing sector. Method guidelines are provided. I meet with entrepreneurs regularly and support them. You know that the number of inspections has sharply decreased. So we are creating conditions for entrepreneurs to work, create jobs, set up new industrial sites, so that Azerbaijan could increase production and exports and reduce imports. We are seeing that. In seven months of this year, the positive balance of our trade has significantly increased. In other words, we export more than we import. In seven months of the year, we managed to significantly increase our foreign exchange reserves. Although the price of oil is at a very low level today, in seven months we have increased our foreign exchange reserves by $3.6 billion. When I say that the country has no financial difficulties, these figures are a vivid example of this.

In other words, Azerbaijan has maintained a successful development dynamics in 2017, strengthened it and taken very important steps to diversify the economy. Thus, we are creating excellent conditions for future development.

The development of agriculture is a priority for us. I believe that no other country provides such support for those engaged in agriculture. First of all, if we look at the tax policy, we will see that farmers in our country are exempt from all taxes except for the land tax. Of course, this is great support provided to the farmers by the state. The state provides the most sophisticated equipment. When I was getting acquainted with farms yesterday, I saw the new equipment. Without this equipment, it is impossible to develop agriculture. This year, 10,000 units of the most advanced equipment have been delivered to Azerbaijan. Subsidies are provided to farmers. As I have already mentioned, loans are granted on preferential terms. Most of the fuel and fertilizer is provided by the state. Methodological recommendations are provided. Based on the recommendations provided by the state, about 40 modern agricultural estates are being created now. Entrepreneurs and farmers are provided with so much support, and we are seeing the result of that. Entrepreneurs and farmers treat this work responsibly and repay their loans on time. In the coming years, specific work will be done in all the branches of agriculture.

The Azerbaijani public knows that state programs on various branches of agriculture have been adopted in recent years. These are very specific programs. All instructions have been issued and funds allocated. As a result of these programs, we will achieve diversification in agriculture.

Of course, food security is one of the main issues for us. Very important steps have been taken in this direction in recent years. We developed non-traditional sectors for us. In previous years, during the Soviet period, we imported meat, milk and chicken meat from other republics. Today, there is great development in these sectors. Production of meat is provided by internal opportunities almost by 100 per cent. Chicken meat is also at 100 per cent – we are even exporting it. Eighty per cent of milk is produced domestically. As a result of the measures taken, we will reach 100 per cent.

We are also successfully developing traditional sectors now. Cotton-growing. We have restored the glory of cotton-growing. A lot of work was done in two years. Cotton fields have been increased from 17,000 hectares to 136,000 hectares. Two meetings were held in Sabirabad and Saatli. Tobacco growing, hazelnut farming and silkworm breeding are developing fast. A meeting was held in Gakh District and tobacco areas have been increased to 3,200 hectares. The area of hazelnut orchards has reached 55,000 hectares and will be brought to a further 80,000 hectares. Silkworm production has gained momentum in all the regions of our country. I reviewed mulberry seedlings in Lankaran yesterday. I see that there is a great interest in this sphere in Lankaran although sericulture did not develop in Lankaran and in this region in the Soviet period. The development of these sectors increases employment, reduces dependence on imports and strengthens our export potential. This is our goal.

At today's meeting, we will discuss the development of traditional branches – tea and rice growing. These branches have great traditions in Azerbaijan. At the same time, the traditional agricultural products of the southern zone are citrus fruits. Important steps have been taken in this direction in recent years. I am sure that this meeting will give a major impetus to the development of these three important sectors. After all, the state already provides serious support to these branches.

I should also note, as our experience shows, that agriculture can’t develop successfully without state support. The state takes all the necessary measures, invests funds, creates the infrastructure, provides technology and fertilizer, and organizes laboratories. Seed, veterinary and agrochemical laboratories are organized throughout the country. Method guidelines are provided. At the same time, the recently created procurement structure also helps farmers sell their products. Therefore, great attention is and will be paid to these three traditional sectors. I am confident that we will see even more rapid development in these sectors after this meeting.

x x x

Speakers at the event included Head of Lankaran City Executive Authority Taleh Garashov, director of Astarachay Limited Liability Company Talat Mammadov, Head of Masalli District Executive Authority Rafil Huseynov, agronomist of Janub-Agro Limited Liability Company Farman Abdullayev, Head of Aghdash District Executive Authority Tofig Ibrahimov, director of Gilan Orchards Limited Liability Company Vagif Suleymanov and Head of Astara District Executive Authority Gazanfar Aghayev.

President Ilham Aliyev made a closing speech at the conference.

Closing speech of President Ilham Aliyev

- The opinions expressed and suggestions made in the speeches will be analyzed. The implementation of these proposals is significant for our further work.

Today's meeting shows again that agriculture is and will continue to be a priority sector in Azerbaijan. At the same time, as I have already mentioned, diversified development of agriculture is also one of the main tasks on our agenda. All branches of agriculture are important for us. We are rebuilding and restoring traditional industries for our country. We are also creating new sectors. In other words, issues of food security and reduced dependence on imports are in the spotlight in Azerbaijan. In recent years, very good results have been achieved in this direction. This is confirmed both by statistics indicators and by real life. The attention being paid to agriculture in all the regions in recent years and the policies pursued by the state are already yielding excellent results.

We are facing the task of restoring and reviving our traditional sectors in the coming years, so that we could soon revitalize these traditional branches. The restoration of the traditional sectors we are discussing today has already led to revival. This policy is approved by the farmers. Hundreds and thousands of new jobs are being created. The lands that were once unattended and not used are now engaged in rice and tea-growing. Thus, by developing all branches of agriculture, we are achieving several goals. The economic potential of our country grows, our dependence on imports decreases, there are new jobs and new industrial enterprises, and Azerbaijan delivers quality products to world markets.

I should also note that the agricultural produce cultivated in Azerbaijan is of high quality, natural and organic. Of course, there is a great interest in our products in foreign markets. We are taking various measures now to deliver our products to foreign markets in even larger volumes. Trading homes of Azerbaijan are being established. The first such trading home has already been created and the process of creating others is currently under way. Trade missions are sent to different countries. During my foreign visits and meetings with colleagues in Azerbaijan, I always raise these issues, so that Azerbaijani products are exported to relevant countries.

As for tea-growing, which is one of the sectors we are discussing today, we all know that tea-growing has great traditions in Azerbaijan. The first tea factory was established in Lankaran in the 1930s. The rapid development of tea-growing is associated with great leader Heydar Aliyev. Whereas in 1970 tea was grown on 8,000 hectares, in 1982 it was planted on about 12,000 hectares and the production of tea reached 26,000 tons. It was also noted here that the interest in tea-growing among farmers and rural residents decreased for some reason, and the state failed to provide support. Therefore, we were almost on the verge of losing tea-growing. Thanks to the special attention paid to this industry in recent years, we are restoring and will restore tea-growing.

So far tea plantations have been created on a thousand hectares. Of course, in comparison with the previous period this is very small. But we will gradually restore tea plantations. One of the main tasks is to establish new tea plantations. The state should provide support and local executive bodies should support the farmers. It is necessary to determine these areas because in the southern region we do not have particularly large and vacant land plots. Therefore, we must establish plantations on unused land suitable for tea-growing. At the same time, it is necessary to study the experience of leading countries of the world with developed tea-growing. The yields are very high in these countries. At the same time, they use every inch of the land. Tea plantations are set up in foothill areas, on the slopes and in the form of terraces. This also applies to the production of citrus fruits. We must develop citrus cultivation in foothill areas and in these territories. Relevant government agencies should soon submit proposals on the establishment of new tea plantations here. Of course, water supply of these plantations should be organized. There should be sustainable water supply. The most advanced technologies available should be applied. When visiting a tea-growing farm yesterday, I was informed that by using most advanced technologies, we can increase the yields several times. This suggests that we can achieve the production of quality tea in large volumes even on limited land plots.

It is necessary to extensively develop tea-growing. Unlike the 1980s, this branch of agriculture is developing on a scientific basis today. I should note that the most advanced technologies in the world should be applied in Azerbaijan. During my last trip to Astara District, I visited “Astarachay”. This time, while reviewing the plantations of this enterprise, I was told that they are using this approach and applying the latest technologies.

It is necessary to create large tea farms and farms growing seedlings. Of course, we need to import special equipment. This equipment is now available. It is imported. The Ministry of Agriculture should ensure the acquisition of special equipment in the coming years, in particular for tea-growing, rice-growing and citrus cultivation. In my opening remarks, I noted that 10,000 units of equipment have been delivered. This equipment will mainly serve the development of cotton-growing. Thanks to this, we have increased the area of cotton crops about 10 times. Special equipment should be imported for these sectors as well. The National Fund for Entrepreneurship Support should provide low-interest loans to entrepreneurs. This work should be carried out even faster.

In 2016, a total of 12,600 tons of tea were imported to our country. Our country has paid $45 million on this. At the same time, 1,100 tons of tea were exported last year, and the country received currency amounting to $6.1 million. So we see that the balance is not in our favor. We export tea. But we mainly export packaged tea on the basis of imported raw materials or mixed tea. We must process and export tea grown in Azerbaijan. Our country will then save so much currency.

If we take into account that tea-growing in Azerbaijan is assuming large proportions now and several tea farms are being created, then I think that we could also consider establishing an Association of Tea Producers and Exporters, as is the case in other sectors. Similar associations have been established on our recommendations in other sectors. Of course, they serve the development of these industries.

As for the development of rice-growing, I should note that it develops in 12 districts of Azerbaijan. I reviewed the work of a rice farm in Lankaran yesterday. A processing enterprise has also been established. One of the proposals made in the speeches is to create new processing enterprises using state support. I support that. Of course, it is necessary to use the latest technologies in these processing enterprises – in terms of sorting, quality and packing. Packing should be at a level adequate for exporting rice to any country of the world. We need to pay attention to this sphere.

I should note that, unlike tea-growing, rice cultivation has been developing fast in recent years. State support was quite extensive. The farmers are also very interested in this sector because this is a profitable sphere. By providing additional support, the state can make this sector more attractive for farmers. In general, we must use all our natural opportunities. I also took part in the opening of a packing enterprise in Jalilabad District yesterday. Lentils and peas are packaged and dispatched for sale there. This is also a great and profitable industry. Unfortunately, we can’t provide ourselves with these products and still depend on imports. Therefore, these branches should also receive very serious support. Every district should have a specific program on the development of agriculture.

When I last visited Masalli, the head of the Masalli District Executive Authority said that grain growing was not particularly profitable. But now he reported in this speech how profitable other sectors are for the people, farmers, the state and exports. Therefore, we must use natural climatic conditions correctly. Almost all agricultural products are cultivated in Azerbaijan. We have nine climate zones. With the exception of tropical fruits, we can grow any agricultural products – fruits, vegetables, tobacco, grapes, cotton, fruits with shell, tea, citrus. Therefore, we should make the most of these opportunities.

As for rice-growing, whereas 1991, the first year of independence, rice was planted on 1,000 hectares, this area reached 2,500 hectares in 2016 and 5,600 tons of rice were harvested. This year, rice was planted on 5,000 hectares. So compared to last year, the crop area has doubled. This is a very positive phenomenon. I should note again that farmers are very interested in this sector. Whereas in previous periods rice-growing was a very labor-intensive and difficult sphere, it is fully automated now. The new technological process I reviewed in a rice farm yesterday shows that the development of rice-growing is possible without much effort – both during planting and during harvesting. Therefore, equipment has now been imported. We must definitely consider buying special equipment corresponding to the dynamics of rice-growing.

Water supply of crop areas is very important, of course. Unfortunately, we have unused wetlands under water today. They should also be used for the development of rice-growing. It is necessary to pay attention to seed production. This issue was also touched upon here. This is also an important issue.

Soft loans should also be granted for the development of rice-growing. It is necessary to create modern rice processing enterprises. Last year, 48,000 tons of rice were imported into our country and $37 million went abroad.

As for citrus fruits, this sector also enjoys great attention. I can say that there is growth in this sphere too. For example, whereas citrus fruits were planted on 1,700 hectares in 2000, now they are planted on 2,500 hectares. There is growth, but it can be even greater. I should note that it is necessary to consider laying citrus orchards in foothill areas and on the slopes in a terraced way. Of course, there must be water supply. I have some figures and I think that they will be of interest to farmers. Last year, lemons were planted on 470 hectares, oranges on 255 hectares and mandarins on 1,700 hectares. It is necessary to create new freezing chambers and deliver special small-sized equipment for citrus fruits. One of the problems in this sector is the lack of specialists. We should consider this issue in our Agrarian Research Center and if necessary, attract specialists from abroad at the first stage, so that this sector could develop fast.

I want to say for your information that 27,000 tons of citrus fruits worth $17 million were imported into our country in 2016. Of these, 9,000 tons were lemons, 4,600 tons were mandarins, 12,000 tons were oranges, and 2,000 tons were kiwi. I am voicing these figures for entrepreneurs to hear. At the initial stage, it is necessary to grow this much citrus fruits in Azerbaijan to eliminate the dependence on imports. To eliminate the dependence on imports, Azerbaijan must produce an additional 27,000 tons of citrus fruits. According to the information available to me, in 2010 we harvested 19,000 tons and in 2016 the figure reached 46,000 tons. The growth is very large – more than twice in six years. This is good dynamics, but it can’t fully satisfy us.

Thus, if we look at total imports in these three sectors, we can see that tea imports into our country are worth $45 million, rice $37 million and citrus $17 million annually. This amounts to $100 million. By developing these traditional sectors through domestic production and providing ourselves, we can save these funds. This is the first task, the first stage. The main issue is to create large export potential. These instructions must be fulfilled. We will then achieve this goal. In parallel, we must look for export markets for these products.

As for tea-growing, these markets already exist. Azerbaijan simply produces more tea on the basis of imported raw materials. As for the production of citrus and rice, of course, we must access export markets in parallel.

To carry out all this work, relevant state bodies should work together – the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Economy, the Open Joint-Stock Company "Melioration and Water Management", local executive authorities. Overall supervision of the work will be carried out by the Presidential Administration.

This meeting shows again that all branches of agriculture are of great importance to us. The work done in recent years, the meetings held and my trips to the regions show yet again that we are on the right track. In a short time, we will further increase the self-sufficiency ratio. Azerbaijan will access world markets with even more quality products. Thus, the country's economy will develop in a diversified manner. The dependence on imports will reduce to the minimum, new jobs and production sites will be created, and this will be of great benefit to the people of Azerbaijan and our state.

I am sure that all the instructions issued today will be fulfilled in a short time. I should note that the proposals made at the meeting should be analyzed once more. I should be presented with specific proposals, so that all orders could soon be implemented and these sectors could develop rapidly. Thank you!

x x x

President Ilham Aliyev then viewed an exhibition organized as part of the conference.

Minister of Economy Shahin Mustafayev informed the head of state about the exhibition.

President Ilham Aliyev was also informed about the current state and prospects of development of tea-growing in Azerbaijan.


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