By Kamila Aliyeva
Uzbekistan has decided to encourage mechanized harvesting of cotton.
Uzbekistan carried out serious preparation for harvesting in 2017 and the rich harvest was grown in comparison with the previous years, according to the Uzbek Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources.
Uzbekistan’s government's decree on increase of purchase prices for cotton raw crop dated September 14, 2017 is intended to boost collectors’ interest in the work.
Starting from October 1, as many as 500 soums are paid for 1 kilogram of hand-picked cotton while 260,000 soums - per 1 ton of cotton collected by machines. Cotton farmers are recommended to pay labor collectors every five days, in necessary cases every day.
The price for each kilogram of cotton doubled compared to the previous year contributing to the voluntary involvement of unorganized youth and the population in harvesting.
The tradition of cotton production and export has a long history in Uzbekistan as it has been cultivated there since the 5–6th centuries.
The production of cotton which is also called ‘white gold’ has long been a strategic centerpiece of the Uzbek economy.
Cotton is planted during April-early May and harvested in September. The plantation are concentrated in the periphery of Aydar lake (near Bukhara) and also to some extent in Tashkent along the Syr Darya, and along the Amu Darya in the border area with Turkmenistan.
However, in territories with a shortage of labor resources - in the Syrdarya and Jizzakh regions - the experience of surcharge for each kilogram of cotton in the amount of 100 soums is applied.
To actively carry out the harvest season on the ground, the units consisting of not less than 100 people in each of them were created. The innovation of the season was the employment of the heads of the collectors' units by the Uzpahtasanoat JSC on the basis of a civil law contract made with cotton ginning enterprises. The joint-stock commercial bank - Agrobank - allocated a loan to the organizations of Uzpahtasanoat JSC in the amount of 45 billion soums for the timely payment of funds to the heads of the collectors' units.
Uzbekistan has found itself under international pressure due to the use of forced labor in cotton fields and has long been criticized for this. Therefore, the Central Asian country takes steps to get rid of this stigma.
Uzbekistan intends to implement a number of new measures to prevent forced and child labor in the harvesting of cotton.
In the near future, comprehensive measures to further introduce the market mechanisms and achievements of modern science and technology into the agricultural sphere will be taken.
One of the main directions is to increase the level of mechanization of agriculture and the development of new varieties of cotton that provide conditions for the widespread use of mechanized harvesting and the maximum effect from the mechanization of agricultural production.
In parallel, various methods of economic stimulation of attraction of the seasonal workers as well as proposals for the settlement of labor relations in this sphere will be developed.
Particular attention will be paid to the participation of non-governmental non-profit organizations (NGOs) and other civil society institutions in the implementation of public control over the implementation of labor laws on the ground, and conducting a broad awareness-raising campaign on these issues among the population.
In this regard, the Parliamentary Commission for the Management of the Public Fund for the Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions under the Oliy Majlis recommended considering allocation of subsidies, grants and social orders to NGOs for the implementation of targeted programs aimed at creating decent working conditions for citizens.
In addition, the order, according to which the Parliamentary Commission will regularly submit for consideration to the Senate the information on the results of the activities of heads of state bodies, other organizations in the field of enforcing legislation and international treaties related to ensuring guaranteed labor rights, including preventing the use of forced labor, will now be introduced.
Annual information on measures taken by Uzbekistan to ensure the guaranteed labor rights of citizens will be distributed as official information of the UN General Assembly, and also through the consular institutions of the country abroad.
At the same time, the senators called upon international organizations and financial institutions to objectivity when assessing the measures taken in Uzbekistan to prevent forced labor.
Cotton production is of high strategic importance for Uzbekistan’s economy. During the Soviet era, cotton production significantly increased in Uzbekistan although the central government strictly controlled agricultural production as well as input and output prices. It also introduced quotas to ensure efficient production at collective farms (kolkhozes).
When Uzbekistan became a sovereign state in 1991, the share of agriculture in GDP was greater than 33 percent, followed by the industrial sector with 27 percent.
At the time, a gradual market-oriented reform was introduced, and Uzbekistan has since pursued an ‘Uzbek model’ of transition from state socialism to a market-based economy.
Currently, Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth-largest cotton producer among 90 cotton-growing countries. It produces about 1.1 million tons of cotton fiber annually, which accounts for about 6 percent of global cotton production. The country exports cotton mainly to China, Bangladesh, Korea and Russia.
One of the policy priorities of Uzbekistan is further development of its textile industry. Uzbekistan takes consistent steps to increase the volume of cotton fiber processing.
In the period 2010-2014, the textile industry of Uzbekistan received and spent foreign investments worth $785 million while 147 new textile enterprises with participation of investors from Germany, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, the USA, Turkey and other countries were commissioned. Export potential of these enterprises amounted to $670 millions.
Currently, Uzbekistan continues to attract foreign investments for construction of textile enterprises in Uzbekistan. In late August, another Polish company Polcotton agreed to invest about $60 million in the construction of the textile complex in Uzbekistan. It is expected that, the future factory will have a capacity of 10,000 tons of finished products per year and as many as 1,200 new workplaces will be created.
Because of the risks associated with a one-crop economy as well as from considerations of food security for the population, Uzbekistan has been trying to diversify its production of other agricultural products, while reducing cotton production.
The Central Asian nation intends to decrease production and public procurement of raw cotton up to 3 million tons by 2020. Thus, Uzbekistan aims to increase production of grain crops up to 8.5 million tons with the growth rate of 16.4 percent by 2020 due to optimization of lands and introduction of modern agriculture technologies. It is also planned to increase production of potatoes by 35 percent, other vegetables by 30 percent, fruits and grapes 21.5 percent, meat by 26.2 percent, milk by 47.3 percent, eggs by 74.5 percent and fish by 2.5 times.
Kamila Aliyeva is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Kami_Aliyeva
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