| Is it possible to drain the Sea
with cotton ?
Cotton is a cheap natural fibre. It makes possible to manufacture clothing of poor quality but pleasant to wear. Cultivated in sunny countries, its harvest requires an abundant workmanship. To have an income, the salaries must thus remain very low. We are not very far from slavery. If the cultivation and the harvest of cotton are no more really synonym of slavery, it is nevertheless evident that the people used for this work are very clearly exploited. Another disadvantage of the cultivation of cotton is its great consumption of water and mineral fertilizers.
With its sunny weather and its population liable without limit to statute-labor, Central Eurasia was very indicated to cultivate cotton. The Russians began that from the early 20th century and the first taking away of water in Amu Darya date from this time. Already at this time, the Academy of Science of Moscow had raised the question to know if a too great water consumption of this river were not likely to modify exaggeratedly its flow downstream from the taking away. But, firstly, the surface irrigated at that time remained limited and on the other hand, Uzbekistan was so far from Moscow that the Tsar didnít worry about his fate. Stalin did not worry any more but developed considerably the culture of cotton in the whole basin of Amu Darya.
The exaggerated taking away dates from the beginning of the Sixties. At this time, one used entirely not only the catchment areas of Amu Darya and of Syr Darya but, in order to transport their water further, the Soviets built a whole canal system. In all Uzbekistan but also in a great part of Turkmenistan and a less part of Kazakhstan they developed not only the cultivation of cotton exaggeratedly but also launched out in the cultivation of lemons, of vegetables and cucurbitaceous. Since 1960 one noticed a fall of the Aral Sea level. It was not sufficient to have water, one needed also fertilizers. Already at that time, Kazakhstan had great resources of phosphates and they were largely used. One was arguing in a circle: to increase the output of the cultivation, one needed more water and more phosphates. To make profitable the irrigation canals and the phosphate factories and also to be in conformity with the five-year plan the cultivations had to be still improved.
From the very start of this waste, advised scientists drew all the possible alarm bells but nobody listened to them. One exported cotton and the currencies came in. Anything else did not count. Moreover, year after year, the material installed with haste in the Sixties and Seventies became obsolete and was not maintained. Only a small part of the water taken in the rivers really arrives at the roots of the plants. The remainder goes away by leaks or evaporates because of an unsuited watering equipment.
Is it necessary to continue to cultivate cotton? For a short time, cultivation must continue because the population was formed with this type of work and even obsololete, the equipment remains nevertheless available. For the long time, on the other hand, the answer is no. There are currently synthetic fibres which have the touch and qualities of cotton without having its disadvantages. The clothing manufactured with these new products are not only comfortable to wear but they are durable. Moreover, the current chemical industry works properly and without danger to the environment. These industries also offer decent salaries to their employed people.
Is it necessary to continue to cultivate on irrigated soil ? Yes but with modern material. The Israelis do it but, thanks to well studied equipment, they use water by granting its value, this value being specially high in all the desertic countries. The soil itself must be fixed and protected from erosion by the wind. Is it necessary to continue to use fertilizers ? Yes but parsimoniously. Fertilizers must be brought to the foot of the plants at the same time as water and both must be consumed by the plant. Water should not evaporate and fertilizers would not escape in the soil. Mineral fertilizers survive the plant. When this latter dies, it must be composted on the spot and its manure must nourish the plant which will succeed to it. All that is not free but the TACIS program can finance a part of the expenses and private investors may finance the remainder.