By Eugene Gerden,
Russia plans to solve the problem of cotton dependence from Central Asian countries through the establishment of its own production within the country.
As part of this initiative, the government plans to create conditions for organizing mass cultivation of cotton in various parts of the country, especially its southern regions – including Kalmykia, Stavropol and Dagestan Republic – where pilot projects for cotton production have already been launched.
According to Oleg Kashcheev, deputy director of the Department of Forestry and Light Industry of Russia, the Russian government believes that the beginning of the domestic cotton cultivation will help to completely solve the problem of Russia’s dependence on cotton imports from Central Asian countries (particularly Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), as well as help to increase the per-capita consumption of cotton in the country. Consumption is currently estimated at only 15.4 pounds per person, significantly lower the European Union average of 55 pounds per person.
“Despite the criticism of some Russian experts on the impossibility of growing cotton in the Russian climatic conditions, we believe that these projects could be considered as promisive and are expected to be implemented on the basis of public-private partnership,” Kashcheev says. “Successful implementation of these projects will allow us to at least to satisfy our domestic cotton demand by 2020.”
At present, the demand for cotton in Russia remains high, despite that in recent years cotton imports to the country have declined by three times, due to a significant increase of cotton prices in the world market. For example, if in 2004 cotton imports to Russia amounted to 313,000 tons, last year these figures totaled only 104,000 tons.
The collapse of the USSR resulted in a loss of raw cotton base for Russia and 100% dependence on foreign supplies, which did not satisfy the Russian government, which pushed forward an initiative of the establishment of domestic cotton production.
According to state plans, the largest cotton growing areas will be established in the Astrakhan region of the country (southern Russia), which could be considered Russia’s main region suitable for industrial production of cotton and elite cotton seeds, in terms of its natural and climatic conditions. There is a possibility that the initial stage of the annual cotton crop in this region can amount up to 1,000 tons, and might be significantly increased in the near future.
In addition to the Astrakhan region, similar projects are expected to be launched in other southern regions of Russia, in particular the Krasnodar Territory, Stavropol Territory, Adygea, Kalmykia and Dagestan Republics.
According to experts of the Russian Ministry of Agriculture, cotton yields in the majority of Russian regions are comparable with Uzbek yields, estimated at 9 to 10 bales per hectare and even higher than those of other Central Asian countries.
At the same time, domestic production will be supported by Russian science, which currently focuses on the development of new cotton varieties resistant to the cold Russian climate.
As part of these plans, scientists of the Astrakhan Research Institute of Vegetable and Melon crops, in cooperation with their colleagues from the Lower Volga Research Institute, have recently developed new cotton varieties capable of withstanding Russian frosts down to minus-one degree without compromising the quality of the fiber and seeds.
Astrakhan cotton has similar properties while Dagestan scientists have already tested a new “Synthetic-13” cotton variety, which is expected to fully mature by the end of September and whose fiber will be suitable for the manufacture of denim and calico. These cotton varieties will be sown in the North Caucasus.
Eugene Gerden is a freelance journalist based in Russia.