Eurasianet says Tajik authorities use various tactics, ranging from threats to pleading, to get its government-sector employees to abandon their classrooms and clinics for the cotton field.  Farmers are forced to grow it. Teachers are forced to pick it. And though everyone loses, the government still thinks cotton will fix its lopsided balance of trade.

Authorities in Tajikistan use a battery of tactics, ranging from threats to pleading, to get its government-sector employees to abandon their classrooms and clinics for the cotton field.

Teachers, involved in cotton picking in the Bobojon-Ghafourov district in the northern Sughd province, reportedly stand to earn 60 diram (0.06 USD) for each kilogram of cotton picked.   

A sack typically weighs around 14 kilograms.  One person reportedly can usually gather anywhere between 50 and 150 kilograms in day, depending on their energy and proficiency.

Tajik pop stars have been enlisted to popularize the cotton harvesting campaign. Nigina Amonqulova, a well-known singer, recently posted a photo of herself in a cotton field.

The idea is to promote the mass involvement of the community in hashar (a Central Asian tradition of voluntary work to help the community). 

The governor of Sughd province Rajabboy Ahmadzoda and the mayor of Khujand Marouf Muhammadzoda have boasted about the cotton picked by their own staff as part of their hashar outings. In total, they collected nine tons, the officials said.

Qurbon Hakimzoda, the governor of the southern Khatlon province, also made a show of working in the fields and claimed to have personally picked 44 kilograms of raw cotton. 

Meanwhile, one farmer in the Bobojon-Ghafourov district told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity that local residents tend to abandon the area in numbers just to find any job alternative to cotton-picking.  It is this fact that makes coercive enlistment a necessity.

“There are no people to hire for the cotton-picking. If we do not summon teachers and doctors for hashar, the collective farm will just go broke,” the farmer told Eurasianet.

According to him, growing the crop entails considerable costs and losses. Growers estimate that cultivating one hectare can costs around 13,000 somoni (more than $1,300). But that hectare will yield a cash sum less than half of that in returns.

Raw cotton is sold to buyers, either from abroad or from local middlemen, at 4.80 somoni (equivalent to 0.50 USD) per kilogram.  Prices should be almost 20 percent higher for farmers to break even, the farmer said.  .

“On the international commodities market, the price of cotton is usually about 62 cents per pound,” he said, talking in terms of the weight measurement used on global trading floors. One pound is equivalent to 450 grams.

“Nobody is going to buy from us for any more than 50 cents. That is why we cannot afford to pay the pickers more than six cents.  And people will not come for such a small amount of money,” the farmer said.

Other crops would be preferable and more profitable, but farmers working on leased land are given no choice in what they cultivate.

The Agriculture Ministry forecast that this year’s harvest would total 400,000 tons of raw cotton. The material is sold to businesses in countries like Turkey, China and Russia. By late October, pickers had gathered around 330,000 tons, a 95,000 ton increase on the same period last year.