This article is interesting for two main reasons, because it demonstrates with facts and figures: i) how a majority of cotton farmers have been unable to have a profitable business in the last decade in Tajikistan; ii) how some key politicians/businesses have been able to draw profits from financing cotton planting. The article focus is on explaining that the Tajik government “intentionally misled international financial institutions about the supposed privatisation of its cotton industry” for the past decade. It presents the fact that Hasan Sa‘dulloev, President Rahmon’s brother in law, through Orionbank, has controlled cotton trading from Tajikistan by pre-financing cotton planting and makes then cotton farmers dependent on (limited) incomes from cotton. It also gives figures on the rising debt of most cotton farms in Tajikistan. The author then concludes that since the cotton sector is less and less profitable (due to low yields), the government may be ready to back a real privatisation of this sector, assuming that it would solve most issues that this sector has struggled with during the past decades. Indeed, privatisation could help in tackling governance problems (even though it depends on how transparent is the process ― and why would it be transparent in the current context the author describes?). Even more importantly, privatisation of cotton integrated companies in Sub-Saharan Africa has showed mixed results: In an uncertain environment, cotton companies need to pre-finance campaigns otherwise farmers do not plant cotton. Moreover, competition between ginners sometimes create hold-up: One ginner can propose a higher selling price to farmers, sell the crop, make a large profit and disappear (that is what happened to some extent with Kyrgyz ginners attracting Uzbekistan cotton). In this case, it creates uncertainty in an uncertain environment for farmers and creates unstable incomes for farmers. Cotton specificity relies on the fact that only cotton fibre has a commercial value and therefore the ginner makes the largest profit (without a large investment) and if not integrated (forcing the ginner to redistribute part of profit to pre-financing cotton planting), a cotton company (a ginning company) is likely to be profitable without investing in production, which would induce high yields. There is usually no mention on the fact that the highest production/highest yields were achieved in a period ― the Soviet one ― when private production did not exist. It can be easily explained that, for political reasons, cotton production was heavily subsidised in Tajikistan. It is now high time to assess how viable is cotton production for farmers/companies in the country without subsidies.

Gaël Raballand, Observatory of Post-Soviet States, Paris
CER: II-7.4.E-671