growing cotton, cotton harvest, Aral Sea, Soviet republics, USSR
Agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy. It accounted for 35 percent of the GDP in 2000, among the highest rates of the former Soviet republics. Cotton is the primary crop; Uzbekistan is among the world’s largest producers and exporters of seed cotton. However, such production has come at a high price. Cotton requires large amounts of water to thrive, and economic planners in the Soviet era directed the development of an inefficient irrigation system to water the crop. Since the 1960s the system has diverted so much water from rivers feeding the Aral Sea that the sea is drying up. Years of chemical saturation, intended to enhance the cotton harvest, has also damaged the fertility of farmland.
While a focus on growing cotton remains, the government has encouraged a shift to grain production. Wheat, rice, and barley harvests are rising. The country also is a significant producer of fruits and vegetables. Still, much of the food consumed in Uzbekistan must be imported. The republic is also the largest producer of silk and Karakul pelts in the former USSR. Agriculture employs 46 percent of the workforce.
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