At its first session of in the new year, the Uzbek government discussed with regional officials measures to relieve the difficult situation of cotton farming, the country’s prime foreign exchange earner. The session, chaired by Uzbek president Islam Karimov, emphasized the importance of timely irrigation and described the Syr-Darya region as being in grave condition due to the high salinity of its soil (a legacy of Soviet-era irrigation practices). The session decided on urgent measures to ameliorate salty soils in preparation for spring sowing. Karimov also announced the appointment of a new agriculture minister. Last December, the Uzbek president removed the administrative heads of several regions that had failed to meet cotton and grain production targets. (16)
Uzbekistan accounted for most of the ex-USSR’s cotton crop and it now the third largest a producer of raw cotton worldwide. It expected a record crop in 1995, but harvest reports since November — when harvesting is usually completed — have been vague, suggesting a significant shortfall. Uzbekistan seeks to overcome the cotton monoculture once imposed by Moscow and substantially increased grain cultivation in 1995, harvesting more than 3 million tons in a bid for future self-sufficiency. In a further effort to forsake the monoculture legacy, Uzbekistan has invited British-American Tobacco to overhaul the country’s tobacco industry.