"White Gold" replaced by "Black Gold"
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Azerbaijan was one of the largest cotton producers in the Soviet Union. Under the USSR, 22-25% of the republic’s income came from the crop, earning it the nickname “white gold.” By 2000, the country was planting only 200 thousand hectares of cotton, or 10 times less than in the Soviet period. In 2015, land dedicated to cotton production had dropped to 18.8 thousands hectares, the lowest number in the history of Azerbaijan, and 18% lower than the previous year.

 

Azerbaijan was one of the largest cotton producers in the Soviet Union. Under the USSR, 22-25% of the republic’s income came from the crop, earning it the nickname “white gold.” By 2000, the country was planting only 200 thousand hectares of cotton, or 10 times less than in the Soviet period. In 2015, land dedicated to cotton production had dropped to 18.8 thousands hectares, the lowest number in the history of Azerbaijan, and 18% lower than the previous year.

Khanmadov Hazratqulu, a resident of Chakhirli in the Imishli region, works with cotton production in his village. He believes that the country’s interest in cotton farming has dropped because the government has increasingly focused on oil production.

"Cotton production is a very profitable business; but, unfortunately, the government is now only busy with oil," he says.

"When oil prices fall, interest in our "white gold" will come back," he adds hopefully.  According to him, next year’s cotton fields will be twice as big as this year’s. "They will have to do it [expand the cotton fields] because of the president’s decree."

" It requires hard work. During Soviet times, they gave this job to the Azerbaijanis to keep them busy and out of [political] affairs.”

The cotton requires intensive manual labor, and it is very costly to keep up. Cotton requires so much attention, and one’s full attention in the process."

 

"Airplanes were used to fertilize the cotton fields, since it was difficult for tractors to access. In many cases, the cotton workers were in the field as the fertilizer dropped over their heads, causing their health to be jeopardized."

"I just picked up cotton that was planted this year, but nobody is buying it.”

A local resident claimed that sowing cotton is much more profitable than other business: "When growing grain, you have to sow the field every two years, but when growing cotton it lasts 50 years.”

According to him, however, the selling price for cotton is not good. "If in the contract says 42 cents , they buy it for just 38 cents. Mainly, locals sell cotton to the big companies.” The big companies who are looking to buy cotton or cottonseed for livestock feed, are looking for the highest quality product, but are only willing to pay very low prices. In the end, the situation is very unfair for the farmers.   

Nizami Garayev, an agricultural specialist, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying that the country must use newer technology and a wider variety of seeds to lower the cost of cotton production.

“ In this case, Azerbaijani cotton could become competitive in the world market. Under the current conditions, it can’t compete with the market prices and cotton farmers are moving to other areas of agriculture, like vegetable cultivation, which is more cost-effective," he added.

 

Chai Khana
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