The Southwest China University of Political Science and Law (SWUPL) released its findings on Tuesday after a thorough and prolonged investigation into Xinjiang’s cotton industry, following the Western allegation of “labor forced” in one of the largest industries in the far west of China.
In March 2021, researchers from SWUPL’s Institute of Human Rights and Non-Traditional Security Institute visited Aksu, Kashgar and other prefectures in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in northwest China, to conduct field research. They interviewed some 70 cotton farmers and textile factory workers to find out more about their lives.
Here are some highlights from the report.
What is behind the high level of mechanization in cotton production?
The research group found that cotton farmers in southern Xinjiang have purchased new machinery and equipment to facilitate the production process, including precision sowing, water and fertilizer integration, analysis soil and formulated fertilization, and efficient cotton harvesting. In 2020, the number of cotton picking machines reached 834 in Aksu region, covering 71.3% of cotton planting area in the whole region. Many cotton farmers reported that their cotton production was fully mechanized. The increase in the rate of mechanization in recent years has greatly reduced the cost of labor.
“Last year, the price of machine picking was 120-130 yuan ($18.7-20.3) per mu (0.067 hectare). When using labor, if the production of one mu is estimated at 500 kilograms, it will cost 1,000 yuan for payment for picking,” Ning Zuofu, a local cotton farmer, told researchers. “When using machines, one mu of land saves 700-800 yuan. The advantage of using machines is obvious.”
Payment for cotton picking in Xinjiang is calculated based on the amount of cotton picked, according to the report. Many respondents said that high labor costs have affected the profits of cotton cultivation and production. Compared with manual picking, mechanized picking can reduce costs and increase cotton farmers’ income by 500-600 yuan per mu.
Yumiti, another local cotton farmer, said that before mechanization, 700-800 cotton pickers were needed each year, but now only 60-70 people are needed to take over the day-to-day management of the cotton fields.
In the prefecture of Aksu, cotton cooperatives are widely established. In this model, farmers with less land can use the land management right under contract to exchange shares in the cooperative to get dividends and participate in the production of cooperatives to get labor income. Farmers can also directly transfer the land to the cooperative and work on their own.
Another phenomenon is that many commercial service providers are emerging in the southern Xinjiang market. These companies provide various types of cotton production services to cotton farmers, such as plowing, sowing, growing, planting, and harvesting. The commercial service has been widely accepted by cotton farmers as it improves the level of specialization of the plantation and the quality of cotton, while reducing the cost of cotton production.
The establishment of public financing for agricultural machinery also contributes to the high rate of mechanization. In recent years, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region government has invested more in cotton harvesting machinery. Data shows that the government released 1.034 billion yuan in the first four months of 2021 in agricultural machinery subsidies.
What is the income of cotton pickers?
Normally, full-time interregional cotton pickers can harvest 100 to 160 kilograms of cotton per day, and some can pick up to 200 kilograms. During the 70-day flowering period of upland cotton, even if a cotton picker only works 50 days, he may earn at least 10,000 yuan, and some may earn more than 20,000 yuan. Part-time cotton picking can also bring in thousands of yuan for the whole season. Cotton pickers can choose between daily settlement, weekly settlement, monthly settlement and others in terms of wage settlement.
According to the National Economic and Social Development Statistical Bulletin of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 2019, the per capita disposable income of rural residents is 13,122 yuan. For cotton pickers, the income generated during the cotton picking season (September to November) can easily reach or even exceed the annual per capita income. disposable income of rural residents. The relatively high income also explains why cotton pickers from other provinces like Shandong, Henan and Gansu come to Xinjiang to work picking cotton every year during the picking season.
However, declining demand for manual cotton pickers is intensifying competition in cotton picking. To ensure that they can get income during cotton picking season, many land managers ask cotton farmers to set aside a certain amount of cotton land for them for hand picking, otherwise they will not sign the contract of cotton. land management. Adjusting contracts protects the rights and interests of cotton pickers.
Research shows that cotton production in southern Xinjiang has achieved large-scale mechanization through the construction of high-level farmland, land transfer and national subsidies for agricultural machinery. Compared to other occupations, the high income from cotton picking makes it a very attractive occupation. Cotton pickers’ rights such as labor compensation, occupational safety and health are also guaranteed. This partly explains why cotton picking in Xinjiang is a promising industry and will further bring benefits to local people.
(Video by Huang Yue)