KAZAKHSTAN: Today, nearly all of Tajikistanís cotton is picked by hand.
For college students, a tour in the fields is a regular part of the curriculum. Every fall, the classrooms empty and young people spend nine or more hours a day, seven days per week picking cotton under the autumn sun, which, in Tajikistan, can still burn.
Providing nutritional meals to these students has become increasingly difficult in recent years as the price of bread has increased a lot. Technically, the students are in the fields by choice. But if students refuse to go to the cotton fields they are expelled from the college.
This year, 3,250 students overall from Kulob are spending the fall in the fields. At the Nursing College, only fourth-year students are exempt from harvesting. On Sundays, students from area elementary schools even pitch in.
Tajikistanís farmers still depend heavily on student labor to gather the cotton crop. The students have little say in how they are deployed during the harvest season. According to several students, administrators often try to link job performance to academics. Teachers also feel the strain of the existing system, as they face constant pressure to ensure student/harvesters to meet quotas.
This year, Tajik officials have set a harvest target of 550,000 tons. As of late September, about 40 percent of that total had been gathered, Tajik officials announced. In 2006, the government reported the cotton harvest to be just over 440,000 tons.