Uzbekistan: News from the Fields
Photo © Ferghana.Ru, October of 2009. The Nukus area
Journalist Solidjon Abdurakhmanov, the author of many articles about the problems of the Aral area (one of which is cotton industry in the extreme northern zone) has spent over a year in jail due to a trump charge.
In the mid of October the air temperature in the Republic of Karakalpakstan varies from +3 degrees in the night to +25 in the day. Under various temperatures the undersized cotton plant cracks down, forcing the cotton growers, especially kids, stay longer at the fields. Along with the employees of government-sponsored organizations they gather imponderable boxes (2-3 gram) every day. In order to gather one kilo of "white gold" they have to make at least 300 prehensile moves in the thorny bushes. At the same time, they eat third-rate macaronis.
- Kids work in the cotton fields; however, what they make is not enough even to buy new clothes and footwear – skeptically says the teacher from Karauzyak district. – I do not understand why the government needs child labor. There is no answer from officials. Academically, the children in the rural area well behind the counterparts in the cities. Having no money for bribes, everybody has to pass entrance exam to enroll in college. The cities have all facilities and equipment, including Internet and computer, while the same stuff is not available in rural areas. In the Soviet Union our kolkhoz was among the leaders by machine collection – 80 percent of harvest was collected by machines. Now there is not a single combine in entire Karakalpakstan! The cotton-pickers are sold to Khorezm, Turkmenistan and even Kazakhstan…
The schoolchildren in the fields of Karakalpakstan
The absence of control created heavenly conditions for officials for overstatement of indicators about infestation and humidity as well as lowering of actual grade of quality, the local residents say. New term "the plant map" has emerged, meaning that the plant illegally sells tons to farmers that this way or another cannot perform the governmental order. Therefore, the teacher believes that along with the prohibition of child labor the government must put strict control over the cotton growing process, especially in harvesting period.
One of the parents we interviewed in Khodzhel district was frustrated with low compensation for cotton picking.
- There are about 180 thousand residents in the district. If 10 percent of population participates in the cotton campaign they will do the job quickly. However, when a kilo of high-quality cotton is compensated by the value of two bandboxes it is much easier to attract children and students – the interviewee of Ferghana.Ru complains. – Often times the teachers participate in the fraud. They pay no money to the students. They make up false statements and in cooperation with farmers steal kids’ money for cotton.
It is good that this year we have less cotton. Still, by default the children of 8th and 9th grades and younger were sent to fields. Women and kids are working in the fields from Amu Darya to Chimbay districts. The point is that these are not the kids of farmers, but the children of poor people from villages.
The schoolchildren in the fields of Karakalpakstan
Very few people in 1.5 million Karakalpakstan are not involved in the cotton campaign. No interviewee mentioned the ecological disaster of Aral Sea, dust storms; everybody "is sick" with cotton campaign while the republic gets very few benefits from it as well as from hydrocarbons. Either way the export revenues stay in Tashkent.
In the Kashkadaria oblast everyone (even military) is involved in cotton campaign. These days the soldiers in the fields of Kasan district pick cotton. Isenkor opposition web site reports with the reference to Human rights society of Uzbekistan that the soldiers of Termez unit also work at cotton fields.
The message indicates that Uzbekistan practices one-month long mobilization period. This means that reservists do military service in the fields. The anonymous source says that it is unusual and funny to see soldiers.
The Surkhandaria Oblast is located in the very south of Uzbekistan. If you are accidentally there in a car, you should better have some gasoline. Another opposition website Turonzamin reports that the sale of gasoline is stopped throughout the oblast.
According to oil industry worker, the ban for gasoline sale was personally approved by khokim (head of oblast administration) "so that people could get involved in cotton campaign instead of driving their cars…"
However, there are also illegal gasoline stations that sell it at the price of 3-3.5 thousand sums per 1.5 liters (the regular stations sell gasoline at 1070 sum per 1.5 litters). At the same time the petroleum tank farm associate shares that the plant has abundant reserves of gasoline.
All bazaars are shut during the day time in the city of Termez. They are guarded by police officers. The students of universities, colleges, lyceums and schools are sent to Muzrabat, Sherabad and Kyzaryk districts.
The local residents, not meeting target indicators, are forced to stay late. The children get tired so much that they fall asleep without dinner. Turonzamin reports that accommodation and food quality are awful.