For the past week, Firuza has been waking at five in the morning to head out to the cotton fields. By that time, there are already dozens of people wading through the crops.
Half of them are, like Firuza, schoolteachers. The others are hospital and elementary school workers.
Firuza, whose name has been changed to avoid retribution for her speaking openly, teaches in a primary class at a school in the Ferghana region. She should be on holiday now that the summer break is in session, but the local district head ordered all government-paid workers to be available to pick bollworms off cotton plants.
Bollworms are a type of butterfly at larval stage that looks to the untrained eye like a regular garden caterpillar. They are the scourge of cotton-growers all around the world and, if left unchecked, can decimate crops. The variety found in Uzbekistan is yellow or green and can grow to around 5-6 centimeters. Each butterfly lays around 300 eggs. They attack not just the cotton buds but also the little sprouting shoots along the stem, which can put the plant out of commission indefinitely.
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