To Be An Uzbek Cotton Farmer

by Nathan Hamm on 5/31/2005 · 1 comment

Reuters reports on Uzbek cotton farmers, highlighting the difficulties they face and providing another rare (for the western media) look at what Uzbeks think about the course of their country. Like I’ve said somewhere approaching a million times, Uzbeks are very wary of political chaos and uncertainty.

“Farmers, like any businessmen, like stability. Although we do want change, we don’t want bloodshed,” said Akhmedulla, a farmer in his 50s who runs an 8-hectare allotment near the fishing town of Chinaz on the Syr Daria river.

“I would much rather live in a scary but stable environment than in a state of civil war,” said Akhmedulla, who, like all farmers interviewed, refused to give his last name.

And though not part of the above statement, the following shows that the government has, to some degree, taken advantage of these sentiments.

“But we Uzbeks are settled and hardworking, and we love our land. We are never going to abandon it, and the government knows that too. That’s why it feels it can do anything to us.”

As for the cotton business itself, it’s a mess. As with oil in other countries, the Uzbek government depends on cotton for revenues. It is loathe to reform this part of its economy. Farmers cannot own their land, instead,

Farmers are allowed to lease plots from big Soviet-style collective farms, but can be stripped of their allotments if they fail to fulfil state output quotas.

They also are not paid market value for what they produce. All for the good of the nation, eh comrade? Additionally, the students who have the privilege of harvesting the cotton rather than going to school in the fall usually come out behind on their meager paychecks.

In addition to allowing farmers to make their own decisions based on market conditions, the industry is badly in need of investment to improve the quality of its product.

Sanjar Umarov, a Tashkent-based cotton businessman, said obsolete cotton processing meant the quality of Uzbek cotton was deteriorating and becoming unpopular on the global market.

“The industry is rotting,” said Umarov, who has been in the cotton business since 1992.

“A lot of countries refuse to buy Uzbek cotton because it’s badly processed. We desperately need investment to upgrade the sector, but the government fears that private investors would take the lucrative industry away from it.”

In a lot of ways, cotton is emblematic of the dilemma that the government faces over reform. Anything it does will be painful and reduce the state’s power. But keeping the system in place erodes the industry and will likely lead to the same result.

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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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{ 1 comment }

smb January 18, 2006 at 10:09 am


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