Author: Khazar AKHUNDOV
As expected, 2019 was supposed to be the year of intensive reforms in the agricultural sector of Azerbaijan. Indeed, there have been many achievements over the year: improved mechanisms for providing farmers with the necessary equipment, provision of subsidies, introduction of agricultural insurance systems and many more, which should also have influenced the final statistical data of the agro-industrial complex (AIC).
In principle, many of the goals have been achieved, according to record figures in harvesting.
Surprisingly for many, this year was quite successful in terms of large cotton crop despite the reduced land areas under plantations. This means that the potential really exists and the development of cotton growing industry must continue in the coming year too.
Components of the record
In 2019, Azerbaijani cotton growers hit the record figure of 294,000 tons (c. 2,940 kg per hectare). According to President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, "we can proudly say that we revived cotton growing in Azerbaijan, having turned it into a very profitable industry, and solved the problems of employment in cotton growing regions."
Perhaps the rapid development of the industry was possible because the authorities responsible for regulating the industry finally understood the need to turn integrated state support into a targeted solution to the problems of farmers. So, only slightly more than ₼500 million was spent on the purchase of equipment for cotton growing in general, due to which 87% of the production was collected in automated fashion. Farmers had used mechanical equipment earlier too but it seems it began to reach intended beneficiaries only now.
The same goes for subsidies. Since 2016, the government has paid ₼0.1 to farmers as subsidies for every kilogram of cotton. It also increased the amount of benefits for the purchase of pesticides from ₼10 to ₼50, as well as the subsidies for fertilisers from ₼100 to ₼150.
Another important factor that sparked the interest of farmers in cotton growing was the increase in the purchase price of raw cotton from ₼0.41 in 2015 to ₼0.5 in 2016-2017, then again to ₼0.65 in 2018.
In addition to monetary incentives, large-scale irrigation measures have also been implemented despite dry summer season in 2019. In this context, President I. Aliyev emphasised the need for reinforcing the irrigation canals in order to prevent water loss and the introduction of advanced water-saving technologies. In particular, there is an issue of the massive use of pilot irrigation systems, which save up to 40% of water. The leading cotton producer and processor MKT Istehsalat Kommersiya LLC has been using such systems on more than 4,000 hectares for three years. It is planned to implement this experience in other cotton-growing farms of the country.
Remarkably, despite the reduction of plantation size (by 132.5 thousand hectares compared to 2018, i.e. down to 100.1 thousand ha), productivity in the industry has increased: 233,000 tons of raw cotton in 2018 and 294,000 tons in 2019 on a smaller area.
At the same time, cotton is currently grown in 20 regions of Azerbaijan and involves about 200,000 people. It is planned to expand these processes in 2020 and subsequent years, as President Aliyev instructed to increase preferential lending to cotton farms through the Enterprise Development Fund using the state-of-the-art electronic agricultural system.
Today we can confirm the transition of local cotton growing from extensive methods to intensive technologies, when high yields are achieved in a smaller area due to machine harvesting and optimisation of farming activities. It is worth mentioning that this process was preceded by a long period of decline in cotton growing.
"Throughout the history of local cotton growing, only in 1979-1981 was the average yield per hectare close to 3,000 kg per hectare. Now we have achieved the same result again. I am sure that the new measures will increase this indicator even more. Currently the farmers implement a number of pilot projects using modern technologies, yielding higher crops. If we widely distribute pilot projects in all cotton-growing areas, then we will be able to collect even more crop from 105,000 hectares," President Aliyev said.
At the same time, yield growth was not achieved in all cotton-growing areas. "In seven regions, the yield slightly exceeded 2,000 kg, while in Ujar, Hajigabul and Agsu the productivity was noticeably lower than 2,000 kg per hectare. The heads of the executive power of Hajigabul and Agsu regions were replaced with new leaders, who will have to thoroughly analyse these issues and report why the yield was low," Ilham Aliyev said.
The issue of increasing yields is also associated with the implementation of pilot projects involving the use of new highly productive, disease- and drought-resistant varieties of cotton, as well as the use of innovative planting and growing technologies. For example, during the planting season on 10 hectares of the Shirvan experimental station in Ujar, laser harrowing based on the Chinese technology was first applied to prevent re-salting of the soil, to save water, to promote uniform germination and to ultimately increase the yield. In order to prevent evaporation of water and to create a moisture reserve in the soil, as well as to limit the development of weeds, the areas sown with cotton seeds are covered with a plastic film. At the same time, the polyethylene coating creates a good temperature regime for the development of seeds, which allows for early sowing. Chinese technology provides for a high density of planting: 200-220 thousand seeds per hectare with a row spacing of 90 cm. For comparison, in areas cultivated using the traditional methods, only 100-110 thousand seeds are sown. As a result, 70-80 centners of the crop were obtained from each hectare at the Shirvan experimental station.
As part of pilot projects to introduce modern technologies in this area, cotton farms based on the Greek model were created in Terter and Salyan. The Turkish method of cotton growing was used in Beylagan.
According to the Minister of Agriculture, Inam Kerimov, the yield of Chinese and Turkish technologies was 6,000 and 5,800 kg per hectare, respectively. Mr. Kerimov noted that an agreement has already been reached with MKT companies and a subsidiary of the Azerbaijani industrial corporation Azerpambyg, which provides about 75% of all cotton production in the country, on expanding the experience gained in the pilot sections of experimental stations of the ministry. "Chinese and Turkish technologies will be applied on each pilot site of at least 100 hectares," I. Kerimov said.
Minister emphasised that the main task was to increase the productivity in the industry due to increased yields, and this was achieved. "Today, cotton growing, like all sectors of the agricultural sector, has entered a new stage of development. After 2015, cotton production increased 8.2 times," Inam Kerimov said. According to Kerimov, thanks to the use of modern agricultural technologies, cotton production increased by 61,000 tons, and the average yield by 1,180 kg. As a logical result of this progress, the total profit of farmers grew by more than ₼45 million in 2019,.
However, the industry’s problems are not solved completely yet. It is necessary to ensure appropriate processing and export of cotton production. In 2020, the main challenge will be to increase the share of processed products, exports, fabrics, and finished textile products. This issue is identified as the highest priority. So, over the nine months of last year, cotton growing brought $111 million to farmers and companies, however, cotton fibre still makes $87 million of this amount, which indicates a significant share of primary products in the export.
Therefore, it is necessary to create new spinning mills in order to bring the level of processing of harvested cotton from 40 to 100% of raw materials. "This creates a value chain, new jobs. At the same time, the key goal for the future is to export final products," President I. Aliyev said.
Rest assured, 2020 begins for cotton growing, and in general for the whole agriculture sector of Azerbaijan with good starting indicators. But it is difficult to preserve and increase them, given the risk factors.