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The emphasis on expanding the amount of land planted in cotton has led to questions about the loss of soil fertility through lack of proper crop rotation, sharply increasing water use, and a steady decline in the availability of food. Unfortunately, it is only part of the ecological havoc that has resulted from centuries of weakening indigenous practices for the use of water. Irrigation has long been practiced along the banks and in the deltas of the Amu Dar'ya and SyrDar'ya. Over centuries, the slopes running down to the Zeravshan Valley and Fergana Basin were completely terraced into small, level check basins irrigated by flooding.

Rows of trees usually bordered the basins, and in Uzbekistan mulberry trees are still often used for this, since silk is an important clothing fabric. The mulberries can do double duty as silkworm food and as windbreaks to keep dry summer winds from contributing to high evaporation rates. As a field is irrigated, plants take in only some of the water. Some runs off the surface, and some leaches down through the soil to drain away. As water percolates down, the water table rises and salts concentrate near the surface. To control the amount of salt in the soil, a drainage network is needed to keep the water table at the best depth for growing plants.

For this, the Uzbeks developed a system of open, shallow drains that allowed excess water and salt accumulations to run off. Until the s, these water diversions consisted of temporary constructions of stone and tree branches, which were often washed away. The temporary open drains allowed Uzbek water managers to raise and lower water level at will.

When surface water resources were scarce, the drains were closed and the water table level rose just enough to provide water to crop roots.


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Grasses were grown in the winter and spring when their water requirements were less. A variety of crops was produced, including grains, melons, fodder crops, and clover. In addition, at least half the agricultural land was ploughed in the winter to prepare for spring planting. After the collectivization campaign of the s, mechanized agricultural contributed to destroying the Uzbek irrigation and drainage system, and a shift in government policy delayed construction of new drainage system, and a shift in government policy delayed construction of new drainage systems in the early s. A Soviet biologist, V.

Vil'yams, had suggested that crop rotation using leguminous grasses would control salinization better than drainage while also maintaining the soil's fertility. Khrushchev rejected Vil'yams's ideas and reconstruction began, but it was slow. While irrigated agriculture has been the basic economic activity in Central Asia for thousands of years, the emphasis on cotton is relatively recent. It has only dominated agriculture since the incorporation of the Central Asian people into the Russian Empire, the imposition of central economic control from Moscow, and the building or railroad connections with central Russia.

Between and , for example, about percent of the irrigated areas of the Bukhara oasis were sown to grain crops and only 25 percent to cotton.

Today, the stress on cotton is overwhelming. By the early s, about half the sown area in Uzbekistan was in cotton, the rest divided among grains, vegetables, and fodder. By , cotton was sown on about two-thirds of the agricultural lands in Uzbekistan. A recent gradual rise in the proportion of fodder crops, especially of grain crops between and , may show a concern for producing food, as cotton takes land from other crops.

Nowhere in the Soviet Union is the climate better suited to growing cotton that in Soviet Central Asia. Uzbekistan dominates cotton production, producing over 60 percent of the total in the Soviet republics. Since , the area devoted to cotton has held steady, with total production falling from a peak in and peracre yields falling from a and peracre yields falling from a peak.


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The latter decline may only be apparent, a result of the common practice of padding cotton reports by state and collective farm managers. In recent years, drying stream beds have meant that slightly more land is available for use. This new land might go unreported, while farm managers made sure it was sown to cotton: apparently higher per-acre yields would result, earning higher pay for the farms and farmers.

The state bought most cotton grown in Central Asia and exported it to textile mills around Moscow. Cotton brings in about 14, to 16, rubles an acre and contributes about 2 billion rubles annually to the national and local economies. Moreover, in the monetary return on investments in cotton was much higher than for other crops.

Nevertheless, Central Asians are debating the devotion of so much land to cotton, expressing concern for dwindling food supplies amid an ever-increasing population. There has been steady decline of food supplies, especially meat, in the markets in Tashkent because of the steady increase in the amount of lands sown to cotton rather than grain for cattle.

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Still, because the climate is so conducive to cotton growing, some argue that cotton for export should be emphasized. Thus, pastures in Kyrgystan are still begin converted to cotton fields at the expense of fodder for livestock.

This trend must be reversed and the priority given to decreasing the amount of land sown to cotton. Furthermore, efforts to use water more efficiently, to expand crop rotation, and to combat erosion and salinization will have to be part of any plan for improvement. Cotton is but one facet of the contentious water question in Central Asia.

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Dos and Donts in Central Asia - Culture - Blog - Kalpak Travel

No issue has aroused more tension between Central Asians and the Slavic-dominated central government in Moscow than the deterioration of the Aral Sea. The sea is an inland saltwater lake with no drainage outlets, and most water resources of Soviet Central Asia are part of its drainage basin.

All its water comes from the Amu Dar'ya and Syr Dar'ya rivers. Over the past 20 years, the level of the sea has fallen faster and faster in larger part because of water withdrawals to irrigate croplands in the Amu Dar'ya and SyrDar'ya basins. At one time the world's fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea shrank from 25, square miles in to 18, square miles in , and it is projected to drop to 14, square miles by the year Its average depth has decreased from 17 to 13 yard's, and salinity has practically doubled to be almost as salty as ocean water.

Through the s, annual withdrawals consumed almost the entire flow of the two rivers. About 60 percent of what is drawn from the rivers is lost through evaporation, transpiration from plants, and seepage from unlined canals. In addition, highly mineralized and fertilizer-and pesticide-laden water flows back into the Amu Dar'ya from irrigated fields along its upper course and may contribute to serious health problems downstream, where people rely on river water for drinking and other purposes.

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The decreasing level and quality of the Aral waters has had a variety of consequences. Fishing towns that were on the banks of the sea 20 years ago ar now some 30 miles away from it. Fishing fleets are stranded, Uzbek and Kazakh fishermen unemployed. An increasing number of Central Asian farmers also find themselves out of work as the desert encroaches on lands devoted to cotton and rice.

The hardest hit area is along the lower Amu Dar'ya river in Karakalpakia.

Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics

The Karakalpaks are a Turkic people related more to the Turkmen next door than to the Uzbeks within whose republic they reside. Recent migration to the towns and cities in Karakalpakia may be a result of rapidly deteriorating living conditions in the countryside, engendered by water shortages, salinization, and rising death rates associated with pollution of drinking water by salt and fertilizer and pesticide residues.

Very high birth rates among the Karakalpaks have not led to comparable population increases, indicating both low life expectancies and also migration to cities and out of the region. Although the birth rate for Karakalpaks was higher than the average for Uzbekistan in , population growth was below the republic average between and The death rate in Karakalpakia was well above average in High mortality rates during the first half of the s, averaging 9 deaths per 1, people compared to 7 per 1, for the republic as a whole, possibly result from impure drinking water and blowing salt and dust.

At the end of the s, Central Asian infant mortality rates varied from 31 to 53 deaths per 1,, compared to 25 per 1, for the Soviet Union as a whole. In courtyards in the northeast Fergana region, boys watch respectful as bearded elders show them how to mold, fire and paint ceramic pottery. In Samarkand, girls compete for space in classes where they are taught how to use natural dyes to produce the kinds of silken garments their great-grandparents once made.

And in Bukhara, a host of crafts have been rescued just as they seemed to be dying out. The folk art of the nomads is found mostly on everyday items that the are with them: clothes, ornate silver bridles, inlaid wooden saddles adorned with semi-precious stones, stringed musical instruments, decorated and embroidered boots, koumiss bottles, quilts, decorated daggers, carpets, carved doors on their yurts. They often features designs of animals they have encountered on the steppes and in the mountains. Women carried wealth in the from of jewelry made from silver and semiprecious stones such as lapis Lazuli and carnelian.

They also kept things like woven bags and rugs. On an exhibition of nomadic folk art at the Textile Museum in Washington D. You live with a crowd of relatives in a smoke-filled, felt-covered yurt [a domed, portable tent used by nomadic peoples of central Asia] 20 feet across, as your ancestors have done for a thousand years or more. Suddenly, you realise you need another belt to tie around your home, to keep the weight of the roof from pushing out its latticework walls.

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Of course not. You take out your primitive little loom — barely a few sticks lashed together with some rope — sit down outside and, surrounded by piles of home-grown, home-dyed, home-spun wool, proceed to craft 50 feet of ferociously impressive weavings, in the certain knowledge that your belting won't be done for many months or years.