Fergana.ru reports on Tajikistan's gradual decrease in acreage planted under cotton in favor of orchards:
According to the chief agronomist of the Sogd provincial department of agriculture, Abduvohid Yarmatov, this year 16 thousand hectares of cotton were eliminated: 71 thousand hectares were planted under cotton before, and only 55 thousand are currently. The main reason for the gradual move away from cotton is the fact that it's unprofitable...
Falling cotton yields only compound Tajikistan's cotton farmers' cycle of indebtedness, to the state and to private banks. Overall farm indebtedness exceeds half a billion dollars, and while the government has decreed part of it should be written off, the country is not close to solving the crisis.
Meanwhile, the shift to fruit cultures has obvious benefits:
If one hectare of cotton can produce crops worth up to 700 dollars, which requires 800 dollars to produce, then one hectare of grape vines will produce a harvest of 100 tons, when a kilogram of grapes at the market costs between one and five dollars. The cost to produce the grapes and cotton are also incomparable. Apricots, too, are similar...
Thankfully, in Tajikistan either some farmers seem to have the capacity to make these decisions on their own, or the state or debtholders are willing to allow them to make this change. If this were only true in Uzbekistan, perhaps farmers would live better, rural communities would be more prosperous, and children would avoid being dragooned as cotton-pickers?
Read the whole article (in Russian) here: http://www.ferghana.ru/article.php?id=6229
...and the Uzbek government is not doing anything serious about it.
Despite some equivocation at the end, the ninth annual Trafficking in Persons report comes down pretty hard on Uzbekistan for its forced labor practices. Aside from being critiqued implicitly for not supporting the non-governmental trafficking victims' shelter, the Uzbeks get their hardest knocks in the report for the cotton issue. Though, the report notes, there was a governmental decree banning the practice, the government took no serious measures to eliminate it, as...
[i]n 2008, the Government of Uzbekistan maintained its strict quota system in which each province in the country is required to produce a share of the designated national cotton yield. Provincial governors were held personally responsible for ensuring that the quota was met; this pressure was passed to local officials, some of whom organized and forced school children, university students, and faculty to pick cotton to ensure the national quota was met. Uzbek farmers were unable to pay higher wages to attract a consenting workforce because the government pays the farmers below-market value for their cotton.
For the second year in a row, Uzbekistan is ranked on the "Tier 2 Watchlist," (back in 07 it had been for 2 years on Tier 3, the lowest rank). Though there don't seem to be any hard consequences that follow from a poor ranking, trying to move up in the scale (and thus become eligible for more kinds of anti-trafficking assistance?) can be motivating.
Read the whole report here:
The June 13-19 issue of the Economist has a good analysis of the suicide attacks that took place at the end of May in Uzbekistan's Fergana Valley, one of the heaviest cotton-growing areas. Discussing the state's land-redistribution campaign that came at the end of the 2008 harvest, the paper notes:
Ostensibly to rationalise agricultural production, Mr. Karimov decreed in October that landholdings should be consolidated. This gave local governors, the hakims, who often rule with an iron fist--a pretext to seize land and pass it on to cronies or those wealthy enough to offer bribes...This land grab left many farmers landless, jobless and desperately poor. Some have gone back to work what was once their land. Yet there was already a vast surplus of workers, because of a bulge in the working-age population...If Islamist extremists are re-grouping in the Fergana Valeey, they have plenty of discontent to prey on.
This is a reminder that forced and forced child-labor in cotton is enmeshed in a whole command-economic system that is eating away social stability in this part of the world.
Read the whole article here: http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13837448