Kyrgyz farmers are through with cotton and wheat
Hurt by a crash of the world cotton market and exorbitant cost price of raw cotton, Kyrgyz farmers refuse to cultivate this strategic cropper. Shortage of water, a bane of all regions of the Ferghana Valley, does not make the situation any better.
Janysh Kurbanov, senior deputy head of the Jalalabad regional administration, claims that cotton acreage is down to 25,000 hectares from 31,000 last year. These days, farmers grow corn, rice, vegetables, and vine crops where they cultivated cotton in 2006. Vast rice plantations are the local authorities' permanent headache because they require a sizeable part of water resources that have always been in high demand. Fist fighting over water for irrigation became a commonplace occurrence to the extent that the authorities are now compelled to use the police and military to try and cool down tempers. Even guards themselves are attacked every now and then, though.
Specialists say that prices of fuels and lubricants, fertilizers, and agricultural machinery are such that the cost price of a single ton of raw cotton averages 13-14,000 soms. The state in its turn buys raw cotton from dekhkans (peasants) at 15,000 soms or about $400. Net profit from a single hectare therefore amount to $100 at best. In the meantime, there exist other stimuli that compel farmers to cultivate cotton practically at a sacrifice. The matter concerns cotton oil (200 liters or so), oilseed residues needed as cattle fodder, and stalks used in ovens and tandyrs (traditional clay ovens) where cakes are baked.
The situation with wheat is not any better. A kilogram of wheat costs less than an ice-cream and farmers therefore cultivate corn or rice. The latter goes at up to 60 soms in the market, the price that makes it four times as profitable as raw cotton. On the other hand, rice plantations require five times the water used for cotton cultivation. That is why the local authorities have been trying to restrict cultivation of rice - with sadly little to show for the effort. Neither directives nor other measures seem to have the desired effect. Ravshan Kamchybekov of the Water Department of the Jalalabad regional administration complains that the rice plantations these days are ten times their size two years ago.
"The problem should be addressed at the level of the national government," Kamchybekov said. "Our waterworks were not built for cultivation of rice in the first place. Moreover, our water resources are limited. What we need is a special program and a lower price of rice in the market."
Director of the presidential administration in 2006, Usen Sadykov was quoted as saying once that "the Ministry of Agriculture has drafted a complex program of agrarian complex development. Also importantly, the program takes into account different climatic conditions in Kyrgyz regions." Personnel shuffles in the upper echelons of state powers and local administrations in Kyrgyzstan are so frequent, however, that expecting fulfillment of a state program - no matter how important it is - is a waste of time.
Cotton hair production in Kyrgyzstan is mostly concentrated in Jalalabad and Osh where more than 20% of the population of the regions grows cotton. There are over twenty cotton-spinning mills in Jalalabad and Osh. Favorable climate and advanced technologies (like sheeting, technology developed by the Chinese) brought cotton yield to the all-time high (80,000 tons) in 2001. Cultivation of cotton found itself on the verge of absolute collapse barely five years later.
Absence of proper seeds brings cropping capacity 30-40% down, and that is another discouraging factor. "Seed centers have been absolutely inadequate these last fifteen years," Kurbanov admitted. "After the revolution [in March 2005 when the takeover was carried out in Kyrgyzstan - Ferghana.Ru], however, even they were raided and looted. I do not doubt that it was done deliberately in order to cover up traces of past frauds and swindles."
What seed centers survived lack the necessary scientific and technical base or resources. Absence of proper seeds reduces immunity of plants.
Some Kyrgyz and foreign scientists warned several years ago that shortage of water in the region constituted less of a problem than wastefulness. Sticking to the irrigation methods of their progenitors, farmers use too much water. Specialists say that irrigating ditches use up several times the water required for the purpose in advanced countries.
This year, the Chinese leased 15 hectares to grow cotton. They seeded the fields a whole month later than the local farmers. Using modern irrigation techniques and high quality seeds, the Chinese made a stunning success using but a pittance in terms of water (by local standards, that is). Their cotton grows faster, its cost price is but 50% of the locals'. In fact, the Chinese expect to harvest 80 centners of cotton from a single hectare while Kyrgyz dekhkans consider themselves lucky to harvest less than 30 centners.
Specialists say that Kyrgyz cotton raising may follow in the steps of horse breeding that became history in the very first years of independence.
The state in the meantime remains arrogantly indifferent to the problems facing the national agricultural sector that provides jobs for more than 60% of the population.