Falling Back on Old Ways

by Nathan Hamm on 10/22/2004

IWPR reports that Tajikistan is having a hard time picking its cotton and is using bribes and threats to secure the labor needed to finish the harvest and get the much-needed hard currency cotton brings.

This autumn, as always, schools and other state institutions have been emptied as students and public servants are conscripted as labour on the cotton plantations.

What sets this year apart, though, is the level of government pressure to recruit more workers, and the tough measures taken by local authorities to make this happen, such as closing down shops and markets.

Cotton production is no longer managed only by the big Soviet-era collective farms, but largely by private farmers who lease land from the state. Yet such is the importance of the crop to the treasury that observers note an uncanny resemblance to the old central planning system, where the authorities first decreed how much was to be produced and then drafted in extra labour to make sure the target was fulfilled.

Public workers are being pressured to go out into the fields, schools have been shut down (Tajik students are supposed to pick cotton at the end of the school day), and merchants who refuse to close shop are being threatend by authorities.

Once again, the problem can be traced to the perversity of the economic model.

One reason why cotton production – which in theory should be a rich earner for everyone involved in it – remains in precarious condition is the way the business is structured. Private farmers take out loans from private investors to pay for inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and fuel at the start of the spring planting season, and the debts tend to mount from year to year when the harvest volumes or market prices prove lower than expected.

The agriculture ministry estimates that the total debt owed by farmers comes to 160 million dollars, and experts say this means that almost all the money they earn this year will go towards paying this off. As a result, many farmers end up permanently in hock to the businessmen who lend them the money and often supply the agricultural inputs as well.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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