Uzbek Melons Reach New Markets

Speeches Shim

Monday, June 1, 2020
Roma Salamatov at the USAID Agricultural Value Chain Activity office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Komil Yakubov for USAID

Rakhmanberdi “Roma” Salamatov has been a successful fruit exporter for over 20 years. His business, RedPack LLC, is one of 600 horticulture organizations and businesses assisted by USAID in Uzbekistan. 

In the past five years, USAID has worked with 70 Uzbek fruit exporters like Roma to help boost their exports and access new markets. “When I started this business, I had three employees,” Roma said. “I’m proud to say we now employ 30 staff. In Syrdarya, Mirzaobod district, my hometown, like in many regions of Uzbekistan, young people leave the country in search of employment opportunities. Thanks to our business, a few young people can stay here, look after their families and make an honest living.”

Roma, 50, was born in the dry, windy steppe region of Syrdarya, a district in central Uzbekistan that borders one of Central Asia’s two great rivers. After completing his agricultural degree in Moscow, Roma returned to his hometown and worked in administrative positions for his village council. But Roma always dreamed of using his degree to run his own business and provide a better life for his growing family.

In 1994, Roma’s dream turned into reality when he launched a small export business, focusing on melons, the best crop from his area. 

Until 2017, the Government of Uzbekistan placed onerous barriers on fruit and vegetable exporters. Then, reforms to export regulations resulted in a surge of exports and the emergence of new entrepreneurs eager to enter the sector. 

However, exporters like Roma still faced several challenges. The vast majority of Uzbekistan’s fruit and vegetable exports end up in cheap, wholesale Russian markets, where products sell two to three times lower than the average world price. As new entrepreneurs started exporting, Uzbek products flooded Russian markets, driving low prices even lower. 

“My profits were falling every year,” says Roma. “I decided to change my focus to niche markets in Europe to maximize returns on my investments in product quality, branding and marketing.” 

At the time, Baltic markets such as Latvia imported only 4 percent of their horticultural products from Uzbekistan, almost all of which were dried fruit – raisins and apricots. Fresh Uzbek melons and grapes were not imported at all. 

In 2017, USAID linked Roma’s company with a Latvian fruit importer, and Roma negotiated a test shipment. USAID helped improve Roma’s business practices, such as designing packaging for his melons. Roma learned to pre-cool his melons to improve their shelf life, and to stack the melon boxes on pallets to make it easier for supermarkets to transport them.

USAID helped Roma make changes to his supply chain management to ensure his melons would meet export market standards to fill larger orders for the Latvian buyer. Since then, RedPack has shipped 187 truckloads of melons to Latvia; each year his shipment volume has increased by 20 percent.  

For the 2020 season, Roma signed six new contracts worth $3 million for additional shipments to Belarus, Latvia, Germany, and Ukraine. 

“That is double the value I exported in 2019, and nine times the value I exported in 2016 prior to the reforms and USAID’s assistance,” Roma said.

By diversifying Uzbekistan’s fruit and vegetable export markets, USAID is increasing agricultural productivity and prosperity in Uzbekistan — helping the country progress on its journey to self-reliance.

“My dream is to make Uzbekistan’s delicious melons known to the world,” Roma said. “Thanks to USAID, we are on our way to making it happen.”