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Tajikistan Reduces Cotton Surfaces While Increasing the Yield

Monday 2 March 2015

SUGHD (Central Asia Online) – In the sake of crop diversity and environmental concerns, Tajik farmers reduced the area planted under cotton by more than 26,000 ha to 177,624 ha between 2011 and 2014. During the same period, nationwide cotton production fell from 415,000 tonnes to 372,000 tonnes per year. The Tajik textile and other cotton-using industries face the prospect of lacking raw material, so authorities are seeking ways to increase yield.

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Cotton farming brigade leader Zainiddin Tursunov (2nd from right) last September discusses the crop in B. Gafurov District, Sughd Province, with two local government officials. In 2015, the pictured farm is expected to exclusively use imported cotton seed varieties.
(Credit: Negmatullo Mirsaidov)

One option is to seek out more productive varieties of cotton, domestic or imported. “In the past, we used to rely only on Central Asian scientific achievements”, Dushanbe-based agricultural scientist Dr. Alichon Normatov told Central Asia Online. “[Now] our integration into the world economy allows us to benefit from foreign cotton growers’ experience.”

Experimenting with imported cotton

In 2013, some farmers in Khatlon and Sughd provinces experimentally planted domestic and foreign cotton side by side to compare yields. The foreign varieties had 2.3 to 3.3-fold higher yields per hectare than domestic ones. “Certain farms harvested 4 to 5.5 tonnes of cotton per ha [compared to about 2 tonnes per ha for domestic seeds]”, said Muhammadi Ormonov, head of the Agriculture Ministry’s Horticulture Department. “In 2014, we advised cotton growers to more actively use imported cotton varieties that suit our conditions. The results met our expectations.”

One year later, in Sughd Province in 2014, farmers devoted a third of their cotton acreage to foreign seeds. That third accounted for a majority of the cotton harvested in the province – almost 53,000 of more than 97,000 tonnes, according to the provincial Agriculture Department. Some of the top-performing seed varieties came from Brazil, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Encouraged by that result, Sughd Province farmers this year are expected to plant foreign cotton seeds in 39,000 of 54,000 irrigated hectares set aside for cotton.

One farmer’s success

One of the farmers who saw high yields is Shukhrat Rakhmonov of Asht District, Sughd Province. Last year he leased 10 ha of land and planted it with Turkish cotton. He harvested 4.1 tonnes per hectare. Encouraged by that result, he plans to double the land leased this year and to try Australian seeds, which have been known to succeed in Sughd Province’s land and climate. “This [Australian] variety’s chief merits are that … its seeds ripen simultaneously, which makes the harvesters’ work much easier, and the fibre content is high”, Rakhmonov told Central Asia Online. “In addition, land in Asht District is rather dry […] so I chose the most drought- and pest-resistant Australian variety.”

He said he is ready to help other farmers by selling them the high-performance seeds on credit.

Cotton remains key crop

Tajikistan has planted more fruits and vegetables in recent years but has no intention of abandoning its emphasis on cotton. “Cotton will remain the country’s number one crop”, said Ormonov of the Agriculture Ministry. “If farmers learn to embrace the latest technology and scientific achievements, their incomes can increase because of higher yields.”

Besides exporting cotton, Tajikistan has a domestic textile industry that depends on the farmers. Even though the country’s 21 cotton fibre processing factories functioned at only 14.2% of capacity in 2014, the government is working to revitalise industry.

One plan includes building a textile plant in Danghara District, Khatlon Province, capable of producing 52,000 tonnes of yarn annually, said Bakokhon Khotamov, head of the Industry Ministry’s Light Industry and Cocoon Production Department. The first phase of the factory – a spinning mill able to produce 6,000 tonnes of yarn per year – is scheduled to begin operation in 2015. Swiss and Italian firms are co-financing the project. “The new industrial giant with a full production cycle will be able to process half of the cotton fibre to be extracted from Khatlon Province’s cotton harvest”, Khotamov said. “So farmers won’t have to worry about where to export their cotton.”

The government plans also envisage restoring Khujand’s largest textile factory, Kaobol Tajik Textiles, capable of processing up to 30,000 tonnes of cotton fibre per year.

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