We used to think we were at the peak of the oil boom. For a country rich with oil money, it is regrettable that Azerbaijan is slowly but surely becoming more dependent on its agricultural sector.
Our country, which formerly had oil and gas sale revenues of 125 billion manat has become very sensitive and alarmed by external shocks. The economic consequences of the “post-neft” (after oil) period can be felt in many layers of society, and has affected people for the worse: almost every day we see the national currency fall in value against the dollar.
One might say that what we formerly called our economy was really nothing but an empty market.
But we were told the most bittersweet of tales, we were told that everything “was going well…”, not even stopping to think for a moment of the less colorful and less delightful possibilities that would, and now have, come to pass. Everyone was in denial.
And now it is time to wake up and smell the roses.
Or is it time to smell the cotton?
The first mainstay we found was cotton. Then we created new fairytales to make people dream of the illusion of great expectations from cotton. We started talking about it. We placed economic targets on it. We would be happy like before with a revived economy in cotton! This is what we were told. But we were told wrong.
If you want to develop a sector of the economy, it doesn’t start when the economy has already weakened. It starts when the hard cash first rolls in. You have to have a sensitive ear to hear the knock of opportunity. The oil boom has passed now. Using oil money to develop non-oil sectors should have its priorities determined after in-depth research. After that, it will provide meat to lean bodies.
When your foreign neighbors see that you are in good health, they will start to form close relationships with you. After that, even if you act out from time to time, your allies will remain with you, because they spot opportunity. But when they find out that you have lost your natural resources, they will turn against you. They will no longer visit, and former foreign investors will begin to act like scared birds.
Folks, this was a lost opportunity.
By the way, does the return to cotton remind some of you of the 70s and 80s of the last century?
If the cotton industry from those years is to be compared to the level of productivity and supply of cotton from this year, the landscape is very different. In those years, the country’s collective cotton stock statistics showed that the country was producing about a million tons a year. But in 2015, those figures reflected a very different picture of only 35 thousand tons.
Three hundred thousand hectares were under active cultivation in those years.
These years, that figure is now 18,000 hectares.
If we take into account the cotton stock in 2015 was 35 thousand tons and each ton was sold for 400-500 manat, the total would be around 15-16 million manat. Even if it were 100 thousand tons in future years, it would not even be enough for us to pay for the Islamic Solidarity Games. It would only cover 25% of the expense, or around 211.7 million.
Our expectations regarding cotton are not real.
If there will be any income generation, it will be at a symbolic level. More farmers have to decide to develop in rural areas.
If the government thinks this sector is a priority, they have to start direct and indirect incentives. Without incentives, citizens will be growing cotton by government pressure, which, if you think about it, is another practice of communism.
This process of cotton production would also have to include the forced employment of education and health care workers in cotton picking. This involvement heralds a return to communism.
Our era is changing rapidly and is bringing with it new values. We are living in the XXI century, the technocratic – information century, where knowledge has become wealth. But we have still not learned what that should mean for our economy.
So the choice is ours. Should we choose slavery and return to agriculture and Sovietism, or should we choose freedom, and a society of information and technology?