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Abstract

The dominance of cotton in the irrigated areas of Central Asia has long been criticized for its ecological effects on salinization and desertification. From an economic point of view, this monoculture ties producers to state procurement, has led to the recurrent mobilization of manual labour during harvest campaigns and makes farmers vulnerable to water availability and crop failure. Crop diversification and harvest mechanisation have been proposed as strategies to mitigate these effects, provide alternative income generation channels and increase farmers´ flexibility in dealing with reduced water availability. This contribution uses 2014 survey data from two districts in Uzbekistan, Jondor in Bukhara province and Zangiota in Tashkent province, to inform this debate by identifying real-world obstacles to these strategies. The first district is dominated by the conventional cotton and wheat rotation introduced after 1991. The second district is home to a wide range of high-value crops (HVC), in particular fruits and vegetables. The evidence shows how HVCs can be a profitable alternative to the state-mandated monocultures. Moreover, water productivity of HVCs is much higher. Even so, there is practically no hands-on experience of harvest mechanisation in the traditional cotton region so far. In addition to the state delivery targets, a lack of finance, absent connections to city markets, missing role models and the complete inexperience of farmers with alternative technologies will impede a further expansion of crop diversification and the mechanisation of harvest operations.

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