Salient Features of Fergana's Irrigation System

Among the six major Asian river basins – Brahmaputra, Indus, Ganges, Mekong, Amudarya – the Syrdarya with a catchment of 402,760 km2 with a mean annual flow of 39 km3 is by far the smallest, but with operational challenges in maintenance and constraints similar to the others (Savoskul and Smakhtin 2013, p. 2). During the last half century, the flow characteristics of the Syrdarya have significantly changed: snowmelt contribution decreased by one-fifth, while the share of glacier runoff increased. Various calculations suggest a marginal impact on future annual water flows and quantities available, but changes to seasonal irrigation water availability with less water in spring and summer and higher shares in autumn and winter (Savoskul and Smakhtin 2013, p. vii, 35). Such a shift will detrimentally affect the cultivation patterns that depend on summer cultivation and winter flooding for drainage.

A century ago the Fergana Valley (Fig. 9.2) constituted one-third of all irrigated lands in the territories that are now Uzbekistan and provided nearly two-thirds of all Central Asian cotton for the Russian textile industry (Pierce 1960, p. 169; Thurman 1999, pp. 11–12).[1] The expansion of cultivated land has been substantial: in 1930 the irrigated land in Fergana accounted for 530,000 ha and was increased to 650,000 ha by 1950. In the post-Stalin era, a major boost during the Virgin Lands Campaign and subsequent developments led to an irrigated area of 1.5 million ha by 2005. The share of Uzbek Fergana alone doubled between 1924 and 1985 to 800,000 ha (Bichsel and Mukhabbatov 2011, p. 254; Wegerich et al. 2012, p. 550).[2] While the share of cotton was only 9.6 % in the Fergana Oblast' in 1885, it increased to 42.0 % by the end of the Tsarist rule. Within the Fergana Districts of the Uzbekistan Socialist Soviet Republic, its share was more than three quarters in 1930 and fell to 62.3 % by the end of the Soviet rule (Bichsel 2009, p. 17). Overall, Fergana mirrors the trend in cotton production which itself seems to have been defined as the backbone of Soviet agrarian science and proof of technological development. For the time between 1913 and 1990, Uzbekistan's record contains a fourfold expansion in the area of cotton cultivation, an increase in output by a factor of ten, and the yield per hectare rose from 1.2 to 2.8 t/ha (Spoor 2007, pp. 58–59). In contrast, wheat production decreased during the Soviet period. Emphasis was put

Fig. 9.2 Map of Fergana Oblast showing the percentage shares of cotton (green shading in the legend) in comparison to other crops in the irrigated lands in 1913. The urban centres within the cotton-growing areas were Andijan, Kokand, Margilan, Namangan and Skobelev (Source: Ponyatovsky 1913)

on cotton cultivation, which has remained the leading crop under state conditions, despite wheat production share significantly increasing in recent years. Uzbekistan is setting an impressive example by presently generating 82.9 % of its wheat consumption from domestic production, while this share from own production was only 14.3 % when it became independent. In 2011 Uzbekistan remained ranked sixth among world cotton suppliers with 983,000 t (Perekhozhuk et al. 2013). Fergana has remained one of the prime suppliers of raw cotton as the processing industries were mainly located far away in the industrial centres of the West.

  • [1] By the turn to the twentieth century, the Russian textile industry imported 36 % of its raw cotton from the three Central Asian cultivation areas in Bukhara, Fergana, and Khiva (Joffe 1995, p. 369).
  • [2] For the earlier periods a growth in irrigated lands took place in Fergana Oblast from 593,246 ha in 1885 to 833,850 ha in 1916; during the transition a decrease to 322,640 ha from a share of 42.0–5.7 % of cotton cultivation occurred until 1922, and a subsequent recovery with high growth rates was on record (Thurman 1999, pp. 264–265).
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