Karakalpaks - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence occupancy no longer exists in the Karakalpak Republic. Under socialist domination, especially since the 1930s, all land and means of production belong to the state. Private plots ( 0.6 hectares, or 1.5 acres per household in Central Asia) are actually leaseholds. Agriculture dominates the economy, and all the cultivated land is irrigated. Locals say that without irrigation, agriculture, "indeed life itself," would not exist in Karakalpakia. Thus, in a drive to maintain self-sufficiency in cotton production, the Soviet regime doubled the consumption of irrigation water from the Amu Darya between 1960 and 1990. If agriculture dominates the economy, then cotton dominates agriculture, accounting for at least 65 percent of the arable land and up to 90 percent of the income of the republic. Farming is conducted on more than sixty state farms (sovkhozy) and some fifty collective farms (kolkhozy) with an average of 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of arable land per farm. Grain, 90 percent of which is rice, accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the farmland (sorghum and wheat are also grown). Feed crops, especially alfalfa, compose 20 to 25 percent of the sown area; indeed, Karakalpakia is today the leading producer of alfalfa in the former USSR. Less than 5 percent of the croplands consists of specialty crops like the Khorezm muskmelon, watermelon, grapes, apricots, apples, pears, plums, new potatoes, and other vegetables. On the berms that parallel the irrigation canals, silkworms are bred in mulberry trees. Livestock are raised for their meat, milk, wool, pelts, eggs, and cocoons. Half of the inventory consists of sheep and goats (Karakul sheep are raised for Astrakhan pelts). Other animals include cattle, 40 percent of which are dairy cows, and, for a Muslim region, a surprisingly large number of hogs (178,000 in 1979). Poultry are raised on private plots, and muskrats are nurtured commercially (the Karakalpak Republic is one of the largest muskrat producers in the former USSR). Apart from agricultural resources, the republic is deficient in raw materials, especially in evaporites, natural gas, building materials, and other nonmetallics. Local industry, therefore, depends heavily on agriculture for its inputs. The republic boasts seven cotton-ginning and three cottonseed-oil factories. While the Aral Sea yielded twenty-four different fish species and 3 percent of the Soviet annual catch, the Muynak cannery flourished. With the shrinkage of the sea, Muynak stands starkly 50 kilometers from the seashore and relies on imports of frozen fish from the Barents Sea 2,000 kilometers away. Light industry prevails in all the major cities (Nukus, Khojeyli, Takhiatash, Muynak, and Chimbay).

Industrial Arts. Although machines have rapidly replaced handiwork, Karakalpaks have a history of expert craftsmanship. Unlike their neighbors, they adorn their homes and yurts luxuriously with decorative carpets, wall hangings, macramé, and wide-fringed belts, currently stressing brown, green, and blue patterns on a red and yellow backdrop. The tribespeople are also recognized for their excellence in work with leather, wood, and bone.

Trade. Kolkhoz production is procured through state agencies, the profits and bonuses from which are distributed to farmers by the collective-farm management; salaries are based on the amount of work performed by each person. In contrast, sovkhoz production belongs to the state, and state-farm workers receive a standard wage. Both state and collective farmers are eligible for private plots, the yield from which may be sold for extra income in collective farm markets in the towns and cities.

Division of Labor. Even through the Soviet period, Karakalpak household duties remained distaff work. Women and adolescents are largely responsible for the harvest. Men do the planting, herding, fishing, and heavier industrial and bureaucratic work. Women do light industrial—especially textile—work.

Land Tenure. The heavy emphasis on cotton and rice leaves little room for adequate crop rotation, which accounts for the reported soil erosion, in particular by wind. Ordinarily, Soviet farmers use seven-or nine-field crop rotations, but Karakalpaks lack this variety. Alfalfa and pasturage have been introduced to diversify the plantings, both of which replace the nitrogen extracted by cotton and rice.

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