A severe correction in the raw cotton wholesale price since the middle of 2022, following a spike seen as the global economy eased out of coronavirus lockdowns, has hit cotton growers across Central Asia.
The post-pandemic price boom saw international prices for raw cotton more than doubling to reach around $1.50 per pound, but the average sunk to less than $0.80 per pound (0.45 kilograms) this month.
"Every morning we go to this group, hoping to see some official [encouraging] information about the purchase price of cotton," RFE/RL Uzbek Service on November 24 cited a member of a farming-focused Telegram group, used by more than 20,000 users in Uzbekistan, as writing. "But alas,” they added, “there is no encouraging news and then we walk around all day feeling depressed and we cannot plan for the future."
Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s top cotton producer. Neighbouring Turkmenistan is also one of the top-10 cotton producers globally, while Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are also substantial cotton cultivators.
The cotton downturn of the last year has caused some industry analysts to consider whether cotton might be signalling a global recession.
"The thing is, in many countries of the world there have been droughts and practically no cotton was grown; but in spite of this, demand for cotton is still low—very low," Zafar Otazhanov, a farmer in Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh Province, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, adding that the $0.73 per kilogram (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds) offered by wholesale buyers for his crop was hardly enough to cover his costs.
In Uzbekistan, there are ongoing complaints about so-called clusters, namely new, privately owned, vertically integrated companies that take charge of the cotton harvest that was once micromanaged by the state.
"To whom do these artificially created clusters belong?" fumed one user of the Telegram group in October. "Probably if we were to be paid a good price for our cotton, it is our high-ranking officials that would suffer losses."
Uzbek farmers have said that cotton is expensive for them to produce because they are forced to use products supplied by the clusters, such as seeds, fertilisers and diesel, at inflated prices.
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