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Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Uzbekistan: Farmers, Scientists Push for Aral-Friendly Cotton Variety
Chronic over-irrigation to sustain Uzbekistan’s cotton industry has been causing the slow death of the Aral Sea. A new cotton variety favored by scientists and farmers is absorbing the irrigation and environmental problems in this Central Asian country. Will they succeed and what more needs to be done? COTTON TO SAVE ARAL SEA Kubei Artykov knows that the cotton variety he has planted for the past six years in a small plot near his home is not popular. Still, he believes that the crop, known as Aral 1, could help prevent the Aral Sea from shrinking. It would also allow his country to continue being a major cotton producer. Uzbekistan is one of the largest cotton exporters in the world. Every year, the country produces around 3.5 million tons of raw cotton and sells some 1 million tons of cotton fiber, generating more than US$1 billion—equivalent to half of the national budget revenues. But this successful industry spells trouble for the environment as ecologists blame this main cash crop for ruining the Aral Sea. Artykov, who is from the Khojeli district of Karakalpakstan, is just one of a handful of farmers who persists in planting the hardy cotton variety in the Central Asian country. He does not need to draw water from the already shrunken Aral Sea to irrigate his crops, unlike other varieties grown on irrigated plantations in the region. For Artykov, Aral 1 cotton may just save the Aral Sea from completely drying up. NOT UP TO STANDARD? Fed by both the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, the Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth largest inland sea, until the rivers’ waters were diverted to irrigate Uzbekistan’s vast cotton plantations. With the sea’s dwindling volume, standards have been set by state policies on the variety of crops farmers should sow. Aral 1 cotton has not met state standards. Abdujalil Narimanov, an officer from the State Commission on Testing Sorts of Crops, said that Aral 1 was stricken out of the list of the State Register of Crops Recommended for Sowing in 2003. Apparently, the variety has “poor economic characteristics.” There is also a popular belief that the quality of irrigated cotton is generally higher than Aral 1.
_______________________________ Based on the article of Marina Kozlova, Asia Water Wire journalist.
This is why Artykov, who had been growing Aral 1 on some 0.3 hectares near his house for the last six years, had little choice but to plant another cotton variety this year. SCIENTISTS DEFEND ARAL 1 COTTON Because it can survive on rainwater and underground water alone, Aral 1 cotton can save 6,000 cubic meters of water from the Aral Sea per hectare, say scientists Bakhtiyar Zhollybekov, Mukhamadiyar Zhollybekov and Kalbay Myrzambetov. Bakhtiyar Zhollybekov, a professor on soil science at the Nukus branch of the Tashkent Agrarian University, explains that in order to grow cotton in soil with high salt content, such as what was once the Aral seabed, salt deposits must be washed away during autumn and winter. Managing cotton farms without irrigation, he continued, becomes possible due to the Aral 1 cotton’s well-developed root system that reaches a depth of 1.5 to 2 meters and makes good use of subsoil moisture. Former chief agronomist Atamurat Utambetov said they had not watered Aral 1 at all, “It decreased our costs, and the crop capacity of Aral 1 was more than 200 kilograms per hectare.” Artykov said with enough fertilizer, Aral 1’s crop capacity can reach 250 to 300 kilograms or more per hectare. Mukhamadiyar Zhollybekov, former head of the state farm Soviet Uzbekistoni, also grew the variety from 1992 to 1994 in a 15-hectare area of land. “This variety cuts down on labor costs. Only in extremely hot weather did we water Aral 1, and it was just one time,” he said. In defense of Aral 1’s quality, agriculture professor and deputy director at Nukus Uzakbay Ismailov said, “The fibers from Aral 1 are not inferior to the fibers of irrigated cotton produced in the republic of Karakalpakstan,” and that all varieties developed in Karakalpakstan are relatively rough. Many of these varieties have also been excluded from the list of state recommended crops. MORE ARAL 1, MORE WATER SAVED With the continued decrease in the Aral Sea’s water level, staunch defenders of Aral 1 are not giving up. The variety was used to be sown on 100 hectares of land in Karakalpakstan and the regions of Samarkand and Bukhara from 1990 to 2001, and provided farmers a good yield. Artykov and his fellow Aral 1 proponents are presently urging other farmers’ groups to switch to this Aral-friendly cotton variety.
*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in August 2006: http://www.adb.org/water/actions/uzb/farmers-scientists.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.