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close this bookCentral Eurasian Water Crisis: Caspian, Aral, and Dead Seas (UNU, 1998, 203 pages)
close this folderPart II: The Aral Sea
close this folder5. the Aral Sea and socio-economic development
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe technical system of cotton monoculture
View the documentThe cotton swindle
View the documentEnvironmental problems and human health
View the documentThe problem of pesticide pollution
View the documentThe environment of the Aral Sea and international cooperation
View the documentThe future of Central Asia
View the documentRecommendations
View the documentReferences

The future of Central Asia

Cotton culture

Cotton is an important crop in the world. Its fibre is clean and it involves various fields of industry. It is an important crop in Central Asia because the production of synthetic fibres may pollute the environment. Most importantly, however, cotton can earn valuable hard currency in export markets. If Central Asia were to produce value-added "white gold," then cotton would surely be a winner in the world market. Uzbekistan, though it hopes to extend its cotton trade with foreign countries, lacks trading experience. Moreover, world cotton prices do not favour Central Asian producers. The cotton harvest is still falling, partly because the area under cultivation has been reduced in favour of grain production, but mainly because of the irrational use of harvesting machinery and because of shortages of fuel and spare parts. There still exist many technical and social barriers to a breakthrough in the present situation.

Cotton cultivation, which used to use free labour, needs the development of harvesting machinery suitable for each grade of cotton. The present machinery destroys the soil structure by its heaviness, its efficiency is low, and breakdowns are frequent. Drip irrigation systems should be developed where possible. A joint venture with the Israelis has proved at their pilot plot in Uzbekistan that the water consumption per unit of end product can be reduced by a factor of five. It is also true that the technology to save the Aral Sea is available. The biotechnological use of an anti-infiltration screen, invented in the 1950s by local scientists, could reduce water consumption by a factor of 10-100. The technology to deal with the Central Asian grey soils, which restrict germination, has also been proposed. More important is the development of labour-intensive industrial production facilities using local raw materials, as well as the expansion of a network of agro-industries, including warehouses, cold-storage facilities, canning and packaging enterprises, and transportation.

A spirit of self-help

What is necessary, above all, is huge investment and the complete reform of the social system in order to preserve the Aral Sea and its surroundings and to regenerate the Aral ecosystem, which includes humans. This is an urgent task for the present generation, but will also be a task for future generations. International cooperation and foreign investment will certainly be necessary, but what is more necessary is a spirit of self-help. Central Asia creates its own wealth and must decide how to apportion it. Central Asia itself needs to adopt new technologies and new institutions. Without a major shift in production and consumption habits at all levels, and a move from an emphasis on disposability and waste to one on re-use and recycling, there can be no solution either to this specific problem or to the economic crisis facing Central Asia. Such a movement, however, is very weak at present. A question remains: even if the international community comes up with billions of dollars, it is uncertain whether Central Asian leaders will want to borrow money for a scheme that generates no wealth. All aid from the international community may otherwise be wasted. The reason for the destructive irrigated agriculture in the first place was on the one hand a lack of concern for its effects either on the natural environment or on human life, and on the other hand the nature of the political and social structure, which required subsidies from Moscow. That structure still exists in Central Asia, i.e. to get money (e.g. subsidies) from London or Washington, D.C.