High Targets, Low Outputs, Say Uzbek Farmers

High Targets, Low Outputs, Say Uzbek Farmers

Friday, 12 February, 2010
Systematic over-reporting casts doubt over the accuracy of optimistic cotton harvest figures produced by the Uzbek authorities.



By late October, officials were saying the production target of 3.4 million tons had been achieved, but harvesting continued until the cut-off point for deliveries to the depots, November 20.



Farmers say the authorities pressed them to fulfill their quotas as part of the plan, even though there was little cotton left to pick in the final days of harvesting.



“They’re ordering us to pick cotton that doesn’t actually exist,” said one man in the eastern Fergana province. “Officials aren’t bothered where farmers find the cotton, and they’re saying, ‘If you can’t pick cotton, then buy it’.”



The farmer said cotton already delivered was being resold to other farmers at 200,000 to 230,000 soms, about 150 US dollars, per ton. This “new” cotton will already have been logged in the output figures.



Farmers are being required to produce at least 2.5 tons per hectare of land, but if they achieve that figure, they are being credited for only half the amount. The state buyers record about 200 kilograms as unusable, and they recycle another 300 kilos for sale to a less successful farmer who needs to fulfil his quota.



“The managers at the cotton purchasing points are engaged in shady deals,” said another cotton-grower. “If a farmer brings in one ton of cotton, they take 500 kilos and record some as waste, and resell the rest to another farmer”.



The result of such practices is that even when farmers meet the quotas the government imposes on them, they are still left in debt.



Overstating production figures has been commonplace in Uzbekistan for many years.



In 2007, for instance, cotton buyers in the Jizak province of central Uzbekistan added on more than 30,000 tons to the actual amount produced, observers say. Two years earlier, there was a major scandal in the same province when prosecutors accused, 540 farms of false reporting.



“Misreporting is a real headache for many farmers,” said a grower in Jizak. “First, we receive orders to meet our targets, but this is achieved only on paper. Then come the inspections, which reveal that farmers have been inflating the figures, and, several of them go to prison every year as a result.”



Official statistics show that Uzbekistan produces about 3.5 million tons of cotton annually. But Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek analyst based abroad, says that in reality, annual production does not exceed 2.5 million tons.



He bases this estimate on the calculation that the lower figure is enough to produce around one million tons of cotton fibre – the amount Uzbekistan exports to the international market, making it the world’s second-largest cotton producer.



Yoldashev explained how purchasers receive payment from the government for the amount of cotton they are supposed to buy in, but pocket as much of the money as they can. Then they fix the figures so that it looks as though they have delivered on target and on budget. On paper, everything looks fine, but in reality there is much less cotton than is actually recorded.



“Misreporting has gone on, and it will continue for as long as farmers are forced to produce cotton to meet state quotas, and have to sell not to the processors directly, but to intermediaries at the cotton purchase centres who have created a web of corruption to allow them to soak up [some of] the money they have received from government to buy 3.5 million tons of cotton,” explained Yoldashev.



(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)
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