Uzbekistan: Cotton Plans Not Fulfilled, Workers Still in Fields
Under the government-mandated target in Uzbekistan, harvesters should this year gather around 3.5 million tons of raw cotton.
It is 10 days into November, however, and only two regions — Kashakadarya and Khorezm — have hit their figures. As a result, thousands of workers continue to toil away in the fields, even as the weather grows colder.
In the Fergana region, every harvester is expected to bring in 20 kilograms daily. Large numbers of university students, teachers, medical workers and other government employees have been enlisted, as always, to do the work.
A teacher in the Dangara district of Fergana region has told EurasiaNet.org that although there is barely any cotton left on the plants, local authorities are still driving people into fields in the hope of squeezing out a few more tons.
The farmers that grow the cotton are the only ones with a full understanding of the situation.
“The quota is not being met for one simple reason — (acting president) Shavkat Mirziyoyev has clamped down on the falsification of figures. Now he is demanding real tons and kilograms of raw cotton,” one farmer, who gave his name Muhammadsidyk, told EurasiaNet.org.
Muhammadsidyk said that Mirziyoyev has given instructions to install electronic weighing machines and computers at cotton collection points so as to collate accurate information about the amount of crop harvested. The data is then sent directly to Tashkent. The old trick of handing in hyped-up numbers is not flying any longer.
According to an employee at the city hall in Guliston, some 200 kilometers from Tashkent, the cotton regime has been particularly strict this year, as compared to the days of the late President Islam Karimov.
“The doctored figures were necessary to demonstrate growth in the country’s gross domestic product. The figure is always 8 percent or 8.3 percent,” the Guliston city worker told EurasiaNet.org.
Those harvesters unable to meet the targets are accordingly obliged to buy the shortfall from other farmers.
“I met the target back on October 5, and I harvested an additional 12 tons of cotton, which I have sold to farmers lagging behind,” Muhammadsidyk said.
It should come as no surprise that the authorities are growing wise to the tricks of cotton farmers. Karimov was either misled about the real situation or chose to ignore it, but Mirziyoyev has a background in regional politics in cotton-growing areas and has an insider’s perspective on the issue.
Attempts to clean up harvest data indicate an intent to drive through reforms, but for now they are having only negative effects on the wellbeing of that section of the population compelled to work in the fields. Indirectly obliging farmers to shell out money to buy the amounts of cotton they have failed to gather is also going to create considerable hardship down the chain of production.
Uzbekistan is in a bind, largely of its own making. On one hand it must convince international labor rights organizations that it is undertaking effective measures to stamp out the abuses that are commonplace in the cotton sector. Making people harvest inexistent cotton well into the winter can hardly be said to fit that agenda.
And then there are the cotton supply figures committed to by Uzbekistan’s cotton exporter, which signed contracts at an international fair in Tashkent in October for the sale of 550,000 tons of cotton fiber.
The international community has not been altogether helpful on all this. Against the advice of rights activists, the European Parliament Committee on International Trade on November 10 voted to approve a textile trade agreement between the EU and Uzbekistan.
The European Parliament postponed a decision on the EU-Uzbekistan Textiles Protocol in December 2011 pending further monitoring of labour conditions in Uzbekistan by the International Labor Organization. The parliament acknowledged that the monitoring was intended to address allegations about the use of children and forced labor during the cotton harvest.
The vote in the European Parliament committee suggests that lawmakers in Strasbourg are satisfied that adequate reforms have been adopted.
"The progress made by the Uzbek authorities allows us to move forward and include textiles in our partnership agreement. But we will remain extremely vigilant," committee rapporteur Maria Arena said in a statement cited by Reuters news agency.