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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(introduction...)
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 technical system of cotton monoculture

A cry of despair

In June 1984, the 16th Plenary Session of the Uzbekistan Communist Party Central Committee uttered a cry of despair:

In the first three years of the last five-year plan, of the 44 enterprises and production facilities put into operation during this time, half are experiencing considerable delays in reaching their rated capacity. Dozens of machine tools stand idle because of a lack of relatively insignificant parts.

In the past few years the Ministry of the Cotton-Processing Industry has not fulfilled its plans, fiber output has declined, fiber quality has deteriorated, and waste and losses of raw cotton have grown. Report-padding and persistent theft have become widespread. Demoralization has set in among many categories of personnel, including certain executives of the ministry, enterprises and procurement stations. Paper transactions have been carried out on a large scale, and bribery has flourished.

In the past few years, cotton mills and procurement stations in Tashkent region have violated standard requirements when accepting raw cotton, and indices for moisture and impurity content have been understated. As a result, the Tashkent Cotton Procurement and Production Association is not ensuring the planned output of fiber and is allowing extensive over consumption of raw cotton and large amounts of waste.

Whereas in 1980 one hectare of plowed land produced 1,337 rubles' worth of output, last year productivity fell to 1,241 rubles' worth. Mistakes are still being made in the design, construction and operation of irrigation systems, and the area of unused arable land increased from 4,000 hectares in 1975 to 67,000 hectares in 1983. Because of mismanagement and disregard for technical and economic calculations, newly created state farms in Khorezm and a number of other provinces are operating inefficiently. Mismanagement has led to the disuse of land after a single harvest in the Makhankulsky, Urtachulsky, Varakhshinsky and Shakhrisabz tracts. Their reconstruction will require millions of additional rubles.

Corruption in the social system produces the stagnation of technology, and then the stagnation of technology leads to further corruption of the social system, and so on. In the former Soviet Union, where there were plenty of resources such as oil, metals, water, and labour, the only resource that had been exhausted was the development of civilian technology and a social system that stimulates technological development. It was stagnation of agricultural technology that promoted corruption in cotton production and the depletion of the Aral Sea.

The level of mechanization

The level of mechanization of cotton agriculture was extremely low and inefficient. Even in the harvesting season of 1984, which occurred after the 16th Plenary Session mentioned above, 17,000 harvesting machines out of 37,000 were completely unused. Up until 1980, more than 3.5 million metric tons of raw cotton were harvested by machine, nearly two-thirds of the total volume. In 1984, however, only 1.5 million metric tons of cotton were picked by machine, which represented only 44 per cent for the whole of Uzbekistan. Many collective and state farms harvested just 5 to 20 per cent of their crops by machine. On the farms of the Bukhara region, each machine accounted for 5 tons of harvested cotton, i.e. each machine operated for an average of two days in 1984. There were also farms where harvesting equipment was not used at all.

Irrigation technology

Irrigation technology was far from an automated system. Of the 19 million hectares of irrigated land in the former USSR, just over 7 million hectares were equipped with sprinklers. The remaining area relied on surface irrigation, where water is channelled into furrows by means of gravity. In almost all cases, this was done manually, using shovels and hoes, wasting a great deal of time and energy. The irrigation equipment of the Uzbek state and collective farms comprises nearly 150,000 machines. But they no longer fully meet present requirements. In the late 1970s, the first models of the Kuban broad swath sprinkler were introduced, at a cost 400 per cent higher than that of the old machines. Another machine, the DDN-70 unit, washed away up to 30 tons of soil per hectare, removing the fertile topsoil and more than half the seeds along with it.

The workforce

The workforce was poorly organized. There are many in the Ministry of Agriculture's departments and administrations who have absolutely no specialist knowledge or understanding of agriculture's needs and who have neither work experience nor higher-level agricultural diplomas. For example, in Bukhara Oblast, 20 per cent of the collective farm chairmen and 40 per cent of the state farm directors did not have an agricultural education. In the same oblast, two or three city people came to harvest cotton for every collective farmer and state farm worker. On the Maxim Gorky Collective Farm in Altyaryk District, the collective farmers harvested 905 metric tons of raw cotton; each picker handed over an average of 1,400 kg of cotton to the raw-cotton mill. On the same farm, the outsiders who came to help picked 1,328 tons of raw cotton, each of them accounting for an average of 2,500 kg of raw cotton. Machines on that farm picked only 3 per cent of the total.

No concept of cost

Estimates suggest that 1.5 million farmers were involved in raising cotton. If each of them were to work 33 days in a season to harvest just 60 kg a day, they could hand-pick more than 3 million tons of cotton. If each one of the 37,000 picking machines were to collect 80 tons in one season, another 3 million tons of cotton could be collected. The real situation was completely different from this, however. The reason is clear; there was no concept of cost. In 1987, a collective farmer was paid just 8 kopeks per kg of hand-picked cotton. But city residents, in addition to regular daily wages averaging 8.5 rubles, received not only 10 kopeks per kg from the farm, but another 20 kopeks per kg from their regular employer. Aside from whether they were really paid, even students made 30 kopeks per kg. Meanwhile, the farmer had to harvest his private crops, and the profit he made from selling his products at the market accounted for a sizeable part of his family's income; it dwarfed what he would make from harvesting cotton. Instead of going out in the fields, the adults travelled to market to sell their privately grown produce or to make the rounds of the shops.

Cotton processing

There are also many problems at the stage of cotton processing. In the summer of 1960, when a Japanese delegation from the textile machine industry visited Tashkent, among other places, it reported that the general level of machinery was the same as that of Japan of 15 years earlier (Izumi, 1960). This meant that their technology had not changed since the end of World War II. The same comment can be applied to contemporary technology as well. The most serious problem lies in cotton-processing technology, because it proved unable to handle the massive volume of machine-harvested cotton, which has more moisture and impurities than hand-harvested cotton. The cotton-processing period has been much longer than that in other countries, starting in August and ending in mid-June of the next year. It was claimed that this reduced the seasonal variation in labour work and provided workers with stable conditions. But the real reason was a shortage of capacity in processing plants for ginning. Procurement centres are also running short of the machinery necessary to dry cotton. The ratio of fibre production to raw cotton of the firstgrade quality in Uzbekistan decreased from 34.1 per cent to 30.2 per cent (Izahara, 1990).

Textile industry

Although Uzbekistan is the fifth-largest producer of cotton in the world, it has virtually no textile industry of its own. Only 12 per cent of the country's cotton production is processed domestically. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, and the German Hermes fund, as well as several firms from Turkey, Japan, and other countries have offered to help Uzbekistan modernize cotton production and establish its own textile industry. To modernize its industry, Uzbekistan will need no less than US$1 billion before the year 2000. A policy oriented towards developing a domestic processing industry and a radical change in cotton-growing technology and soil treatment is expected to have its first results in five to seven years. Specialists calculate that, if the planned set of measures were fully implemented, the share of domestically processed cotton would rise to 20 per cent, allowing Uzbekistan to become a leader among the world's textile exporters.