Tajik Cotton Industry Faces Twofold Setback
It’s cotton harvest time again in Tajikistan, and the erstwhile moneymaking sector faces more bad news. Though government officials repeatedly promise that children are not used to harvest cotton in the late summer and fall, those dubious assurances have fallen on deaf ears in Washington. The US Department of Labor announced on July 19 that it would blacklist Tajik cotton from import into the United States, RFE/RL reports. Damian Wampler, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, said that "there were credible reports that some officials in the Sughd and Khatlon oblasts used threats and coercion to force children to work in the cotton fields during the 2009 harvest."In Soviet times, Tajikistan produced up to a million tons of cotton annually. The country produces roughly one-third of those amounts these days. Harvests consistently fall below targets.As EurasiaNet.org found last year, children are widely used to harvest the crop, many at the expense of school time. Now, further threatening the industry, poor planning has left cotton processing plants facing a raw material shortage, centralasiaonline reports. The world financial crisis slashed ginned cotton prices at the international commodity exchanges, making cotton exports unprofitable. Farmers were unable to cover costs and repay loans. Cotton exports began to grow during the first quarter of this year after prices bounced back. [...] Tajik textile plant managers missed their chance to procure sufficient stocks of raw materials in 2009 when ginned cotton sold for US $800 per tonne, economist Mukhibulloh Olimov noted. “Now that the price has increased … local factories just cannot afford it”, he said. “Unless the issue of ginned cotton supplies is decided shortly, the processing plants will lose their markets, cutting down the GDP and undermining the country’s export potential because the bulk of Tajik textiles is slated for exports”. With the UN constantly worried about food insecurity in Tajikistan, maybe it’s time government officials realize all those fields, with their spindly and starving cotton plants, could be used for something more urgently needed.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.