Turkmen Cotton Harvest Drags On and On

Turkmen Cotton Harvest Drags On and On

Monday, 8 December, 2008
Although the Turkmen authorities say the cotton harvest is over, it seems there is still work to be done even as winter approaches, since people are being corralled into working in the fields.

On November 30, Turkmenistan celebrated Hasyl Bayramy, the harvest festival, and the authorities announced that agricultural work was over for the year.

Despite this statements, NBCentralAsia experts say people are being pressed into service as harvest labourers to a greater extent than last year. Industrial enterprises have ground to a halt in the Dashoguz and Lebap regions because the workers have been sent off to gather cotton.

Post offices, clinics, libraries and sports clubs have likewise closed their doors, or are working only half-days because the of staff are out in the fields.

President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov has set the production same target as last year’s – 1.2 million tons. Towards the end of November, however, it became apparent that the harvest was not going to be completed on time.

In some regions, water shortages meant there was less cotton than anticipated, while in other places there was simply inadequate manpower to gather the crop.

According to the State Statistical Committee, only 950,000 tons of cotton fibre had been delivered to collection centres as of November 30.

This prompted the authorities to mobilise additional workers for the harvest. This is the first time in many years that people from one administrative region (velayat) of Turkmenistan have been dispatched to another to work in the fields.

A local government source in Dashoguz region of northern Turkmenistan said every farm had been assigned to send 50 labourers to the Ahal and Mary regions, located in southern and southeast Turkmenistan, respectively.

“As of the beginning of December, 4,000 people had been sent from northern regions to the southern ones to work on the rest of the cotton harvest,” said the source.

The source added that similar instructions had been issued to the heads of all state-run institutions, companies and organisations.

One public-sector employee reported that he and all his colleagues had been ordered to report for duty in the fields, or face dismissal.

“Our manager made it a condition that if we wanted to keep our jobs, we had to go and harvest cotton,” he said. “Nobody said a word since no one wants to lose their job.”

As well as press-ganging people to take part in the harvest, the authorities require them to pay all the costs of travel, accommodation and food, observers say.

“I gathered… a little over seven kilograms of cotton, worth 60 [US] in an entire day,” said a leasehold farmer from Dashoguz who was sent to work in Ahal region. “The cost of travelling here and staying for a week come to over 80 dollars.”

A worker with a building firm in the Lebap region of eastern Turkmenistan said major construction project had been put on hold as all the staff had gone off to Mary region for the harvest.

“It’s completely outrageous,” said the builder.

Analysts forecast that the harvest could be completed by December 12, a holiday called Neutrality Day, or by the time parliamentary elections take place on December 14.

However, more sceptical observers believe that the harvesters will still be hard at it at the New Year.

“The cotton harvest usually ends towards the end of November because by then there’s nothing left in the fields,” said a local official. “However, it’s already December and no end is in sight.”

(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 is resuming, covering only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the moment.)
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