Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the conference on development of cotton-growing in Azerbaijan

28 march 2017, 11:30

At today's meeting, we will discuss issues related to the development of cotton-growing in our country. As you know, the development of cotton-growing is considered a priority sector in Azerbaijan. The first meeting on cotton-growing after a long break was held in the city of Sabirabad last year. This year we are conducting a meeting in the city of Saatli. This year, the largest cotton harvest is expected in Saatli District. Cotton-growing has great benefits for the development of the district. At the same time, we observe rapid development in all districts dealing with cotton-growing.

In previous years, a lot of work was done related to the development of Saatli District. The infrastructure of the district has been completely reconstructed. Electricity supply has significantly improved. The new substation I inaugurated today will provide electricity to both the population and all farms will, of course, opens up opportunities for great development. At the same time, the problems of water supply in Saatli District are being addressed as well. For many years, the population suffered a lot from that. Water was provided only to 30 per cent of the city and for just two to three hours a day. Now drinking water meeting the standards of the World Health Organization is provided on a continuous basis.

According to my information, gasification has reached 80 per cent, and I am sure that no settlement of Saatli will remain without gas in the near future. This is the goal. We will achieve that. We can say that all rural roads of Saatli District are being overhauled and built. Several important rural road projects were implemented in previous years. Today we opened one of them. There is another rural road project connecting several villages. It will also be realized and commissioned in the near future.

The construction of social facilities is well under way. There is a modern hospital, the Olympic center, schools and kindergartens – in other words, the comprehensive development of Saatli District on the basis of a state program is ongoing successfully. The state programs on the socioeconomic development of the regions adopted earlier are being successfully implemented and creating new realities in our country. Our main goal was and still is today, of course, is to implement all infrastructure projects, create a modern infrastructure, solve problems of electricity, gasification, drinking water and land reclamation, build rural and main roads, which will give an impetus to rapid economic and social development. And this is happening. Considering the fact that several state programs on the socioeconomic development of regions have already been implemented, we can see that these programs are of great importance. After the implementation of infrastructure projects, better business conditions were created. The Azerbaijani state pursues a consistent policy in this direction. The development of entrepreneurship, the improvement of the business environment and the exploration of new export markets have led to comprehensive development of our country.

We will continue our successful work in the future. The development of the non-oil sector is a priority, especially in the current conditions when oil prices on global markets have plummeted. Now we will pay more attention to the development of the non-oil sector. In addition, more active work will be carried out.

Cotton-growing has long-standing traditions in Azerbaijan. Our people have been engaged in cotton-growing for centuries, but the most dynamic and successful period for the development of cotton-growing is associated with the name of great leader Heydar Aliyev. It was on his initiative and under his direct leadership that cotton-growing developed rapidly in Azerbaijan in the 1970s and early 1980s. If you look at the statistics, you can see that it was under the great leader that cotton harvests in Azerbaijan increased several times. In the early 1980s, up to 800,000 - 1 million tons of cotton were harvested.

This, of course, contributed to the development of the republic. Employment was high. People engaged in cotton-growing significantly improved their living conditions. Our villages were well maintained. Great investment was attracted to Azerbaijan at the time. Of course, we were not an independent state then. The Azerbaijani people should not forget that Azerbaijan was one of the two republics of the Soviet Union that provided for their needs and simultaneously contributed to the all-union budget. The other 13 republics lived on grants.

I want to note again that cotton-growing has great traditions. Unfortunately, after the departure of the great leader from Azerbaijan to Moscow, we began to experience a decline in cotton production and indeed in all other sectors. Every year, less attention was paid to cotton fields and, unfortunately, this process continued until recent years.

The period of independence. Of course, we remember the first years of independence too well. Those were very difficult years. We experienced a deep political, economic and military crisis. The forces that were in power in the early years of independence led Azerbaijan to death, a civil war was under way, there was massive disobedience and deep crisis. Industry and agriculture were completely ruined. Our traditional cotton-growing and viticulture were in decline. However, after 1993, the situation began to stabilize under the leadership of the great leader. If we look at the statistical indicators, we can see that economic development was observed in Azerbaijan every year since after 1996.

Unfortunately, we failed to achieve the desired result in cotton-growing. This has several reasons. The first reason, of course, is that we did not have sufficient financial resources in the first years of independence. Those present here certainly know that cotton-growing is a sector that requires large investment. At that time, we had no resources. The available resources were spent on the most pressing issues. On the other hand, in the period of independence we were faced with food security problems because there was an all-Union industrial and economic complex in the Soviet Union. Viticulture, cotton-growing, tobacco-growing were developed in Azerbaijan. The production of fruits and vegetables increased. At the same time, we imported food from other republics – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. So there was a great dependence.

Therefore, first of all, we tried to ensure food security. We have practically managed to ensure that to the maximum extent. Today we provide ourselves with meat by 100 per cent. We provide ourselves with milk, dairy products and poultry by about 80-90 per cent. In Soviet times, it was not the case. We were in a completely dependent position. In the years of independence, the production of fruits and vegetables in Azerbaijan increased several times, and this means a great export potential and great export opportunities for us. Therefore, we have paid more attention to food security issues. Technical vegetation – cotton-growing, tobacco-growing and silkworm breeding – were somewhat overlooked. Unfortunately, it is possible to say that we practically lost these sectors. I must say quite frankly that state support for cotton-growing was very weak.

I believe that the development of cotton-growing is already a reality today. Year 2016 was a turning point. Year 2015 was, one might say, the most unsuccessful in our modern history from the perspective of cotton-growing, as 35,000 tons of cotton were harvested from an area of 18,000 hectares. Last year, in a short time and despite losing some time, we mobilized all our resources and managed to change the situation. Serious measures were taken, equipment was purchased, state support was provided and land reclamation was carried out within the limits of possibilities. Last year, we planted cotton on an area of 51,000 hectares, thus collecting about 90,000 tons of harvest. That is three times more than in 2015.

This year, however, we prepared even harder. All agro-technical activities are organized at the highest level this year. I visited one of the cotton fields of Saatli District today. We have officially launched sowing there. The most modern equipment has been purchased, all necessary equipment, fertilizers and medicines are available. This year, of course, we expect an even higher harvest.

This year and last year, the State Investment Program envisaged large funds for the development of cotton-growing. Comprehensive measures have been taken. First of all, we had to provide ourselves with equipment, and we did that. Thousands of units of new equipment were delivered to Azerbaijan last year and this year. About 100 cotton harvesters were imported last year. More than 200 modern harvesters have been ordered this year.

Reclamation work has been carried out successfully. The Open Joint-Stock Company "Melioration and Water Management", as well as local executive bodies, take an active part in this. Having expanded land reclamation measures, we have engaged new acreage. I think that thanks to all these comprehensive measures, a record result is expected this year. We have significantly expanded the areas under crop. According to the latest data, cotton sowing is expected on 136,000 hectares this year, and the average yield should be at the level of 20 quintals. Compared to the previous year, this represents growth. But cotton-growers and we know well that this is not good enough. In Soviet times, the yield was higher. If we take into account that we acquire modern machinery today and take all other measures at the highest level, the yield should, of course, increase in the coming years.

Cotton-growing is very profitable for the country's economy. It brings currency to our country. Cotton is a product sold on stock exchanges. This is why one does not have to look for markets to sell cotton and fiber, which, of course, is a big advantage. At the same time, cotton-growing is a labor-intensive branch of agriculture. Last year, tens of thousands of people were involved in cotton-growing. This year, this figure will be even higher. Cotton production is very beneficial in terms of increasing employment in the regions. The public and officials of all cotton-growing districts are already well aware and see that people in these districts who want to work but are still unemployed can find work.

Of course, the state is taking measures. I must also note that more than 40,000 people were involved in public work since the beginning of this year alone. More than 40,000 jobs have been created only in the public sector. More than 40,000 people have already been provided with jobs in state companies and local executive bodies. These include repair and construction work and landscaping jobs. We must create new jobs because we must always keep unemployment at a low level. Today, Azerbaijan is considered an exemplary country in terms of dealing with unemployment, because our unemployment rate is at a very low level and should stay there. In some neighboring countries, unemployment is already reaching critical levels. In addition, they are experiencing a demographic crisis. Our population is growing. With the growth of the population, we must also think about new jobs. Population growth is a very positive indicator and a positive process. The population of Azerbaijan is approaching 10 million people. In the near future, this will be a historic achievement for us. At the same time, this poses new challenges. We must always create jobs, so that unemployment stays at a low level. So cotton-growing is very profitable in terms of employment.

Starting from last year, of course, we have been providing the cotton industry with very large state support. Today we are conducting the second meeting related to cotton-growing. This meeting in itself is a testament to state support. At the same time, we have taken very serious measures to stimulate citizens and farmers. Last year, the purchase price of cotton was increased from 41 to 50 gapiks. Besides, a subsidy of 10 gapiks is provided. People receive money on a daily basis. They are already showing great interest in cotton-growing. This is a very important factor. The state provides and will continue to provide its support. We have spent and will continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the development of cotton-growing. But if our people did not show interest in this sector, then our work could remain unfinished. Therefore, state support, the joint activities of all public and private bodies, and public support have brought about a completely different situation. I am sure that the figures will improve this year – there is no doubt about that. Of course, we will develop cotton-growing at an even faster pace in the future. Cotton production will expand further, which will bring great benefit to both our people and the state.

The state always provides assistance to entrepreneurs in Azerbaijan. This assistance is manifested in various spheres. Of course, first of all, my political support is of particular importance. I often meet with entrepreneurs every year, try to resolve their problems and encourage them to invest in the national economy. At the same time, entrepreneurs are provided with great financial support. To date, loans totaling more than 2 billion manats have been granted on preferential terms through the National Fund on Entrepreneurship Support. These loans are provided to the real sector of the economy. Due to these loans, tens of thousands of new jobs, hundreds and thousands of new enterprises have been created. In other words, new opportunities have been opened for the development of the non-oil sector of our country. It is as a result of this that our non-oil industry has increased by 5 per cent and agriculture by more than 3 per cent in two months of this year. This is evidence of the development of the real sector of the economy – non-oil industry and agriculture. The development of the oil industry is regulated by prices. As the oil price rises, this indicator also increases, of course. If oil production increases, this indicator will also increase. If it falls, so does this indicator. So this is not an indicator. The main indicators for us are those reflecting the development of the non-oil sector and agriculture. Both indicators are very positive. I think that ours are the highest indicators in the world. This is also acknowledged by influential international organizations. Among them, the most authoritative forum is the Davos World Economic Forum, according to which the Azerbaijani economy is ranked in 37th place globally in terms of competitiveness. There are more than 200 countries in the world and we are in 37th place by this criterion. I believe that this is a historic achievement. In addition, we have move up three steps compared to last year. Of course, this is a high assessment of our work, and we are very pleased with that. But the main thing is the processes taking place in our country, and these processes are going in a positive direction.

Stability is provided in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani people are the guarantor of stability. Azerbaijan stands out with its policy both in the region and the world. Security is provided, public processes are going in a positive direction and civil accord is strengthened. There is rapid economic development and the development of regions in Azerbaijan. We show an example of how to manage a country. We are setting this example and, of course, this policy is approved and supported by our people. This is the main factor for the realization of our plans for the future. The unity of the people and the government is the main factor that determines the successful development of any country.

I am confident that our successful economic policy, the development of the regions, the new initiatives and reforms will ensure sustainable development. Recently, strategic roadmaps have been prepared for many sectors. They have been published. The public already knows this. There are specific programs for each sector, and we are working on the basis of that.

One of the main tasks for the coming years is to increase non-oil exports, because everything goes in a positive direction in the oil and gas industry. Our large project, the Southern Gas Corridor, is being successfully implemented. This is also a historic project. But our main goal is to increase non-oil exports. To do that, we must develop traditional branches of agriculture. It is not only about cotton-growing. Last year, we managed to achieve a serious breakthrough in both tobacco-growing and silkworm breeding. The production of tobacco is increasing. We are already seriously engaged in the exports of dry tobacco. Contracts have been signed. Viticulture is developing at a fast pace. We should increase and are already increasing wine exports. Sericulture is rapidly developing. Whereas in 2015, a little more than 200 kilograms of silkworm were harvested, this figure reached 70 tons last year, while this year it is expected to be even higher. The operation of the Shaki Silk Factory has been restarted. There, too, subsidies are provided. Subsidies are also provided in the tobacco industry. At present, large-scale sowing of sugar beets has begun. This is necessary for us, because our sugar factory works more on imported raw materials. We must provide more local raw materials. And this means employment and export potential. Therefore, the export of non-oil products, in particular agricultural produce, is our main task at the current stage of development.

We are already creating trading houses in a number of countries. The “Made in Azerbaijan” brand has already recognized in the world. Today, the most important issue in all political contacts and meetings with my colleagues is the export of Azerbaijani products. I always raise this issue, and where there is political support, of course, new opportunities open up for our entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs should also be active. They should access new markets themselves. The Azerbaijani state organizes that. Business forums are conducted. Entrepreneurs are always represented on government delegations. They also need to be proactive, promote their products, try to take advantage of this opportunity and supply their products to foreign markets. Of course, we should provide the domestic market as much as we can, and we are doing that.

In other words, the positive experience we gained in cotton-growing last year gives us good reasons to be optimistic about the future. Today's meeting will discuss important issues related to the development of cotton-growing. I am confident that the sowing campaign that has begun today will be successfully completed and we will gather a rich harvest.