"White gold....." Fergana Local Custom Tip by TheWanderingCamel
Fergana Local Customs: 4 reviews and 5 photos
....that's what they call cotton in Uzbekistan. The country's most valuable export, it brings in money but exacts a harsh price.
A thirsty crop, it requires copious amounts of water during the growing season. The rivers that once watered the Valley no longer flow so freely, the Aral Sea far to the north-west of the Fergana Valley is a lesson to the whole world about the dangers of unbridled irrigation.
A hungry crop, it requires fertilizers to boost its growth and bring the cotton bolls to bursting point before the rains and chills of winter set in.
A pest-prone crop, it requires large amounts of pesticides to keep the bugs at bay - chemicals that pollute the soil and flow into the waterways.
And when it's grown and ready for picking, the work is back-breaking and takes all the labour possible to gather in the bolls. Until this year, children were part of that labour force. Protests from countries averse to the practice were studiously ignored or prevaricated upon. The official word is that beginning in 2009 child labour would no longer be used.
It's a sensitive issue - we were told it was forbidden to photograph both the workers in the field and the police-escorted convoys we saw bringing the pickers back into town at the end of the day. Our drivers turned a blind eye to the quickly shot-off snaps we took from our transport, but none of them would slow down anywhere to help us get a better shot and when we found ourselves in the middle of a covoy, after dark and on a back road to avoid the police checkpoints on the highway (events had conspired to make us very late getting away to Samarkand and tourist buses must be off the highway by nightfall) some of the boys and girls who waved to us from the buses we passed can only have been 12 or 13.
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