Economics and politics
Much of the economy remains in state hands. The state retains control over land and water. A move was taken toward economic liberalization in 2003 when the national currency, the Som, was made fully convertible. Efforts to assert greater control over the informal bazaar sector in late 2004 led to localized unrest.
Uzbekistan's economy depends heavily on agricultural production. Cotton accounts for 40 percent of the gross value of agricultural production and is often referred to as the country’s “white gold.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, collective farms were broken up into small household plots, farms and agricultural cooperatives. Farmers, due to the huge pressure to meet the yearly cotton quotas, overuse fertilizers, which damage the soil quality over time and leads to salinization. Inability to get fuel in a timely manner, the inability to withdraw cash from their own bank accounts, coupled by recent droughts have contributed to the farmer’s hardships because they cannot meet the state ordered quota. Despite international criticism, Uzbekistan continues to offer a rather low wholesale price for cotton and grain; in 2011, a kilogram of grain was valued at 2000 som (about US $1.50), farmers were paid only several hundred som by the state (about 10 cents).
Unemployment has forced many rural Uzbeks to seek work abroad. Uzbek agricultural laborers work legally mainly in Russia, Kazakhstan and South Korea, but the number of workers who can work abroad is controlled by the government, who negotiate a quota with the receiving country.
Illegal migrants can be found also in Russia and Kazakhstan, but increasingly migrate to southern Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to work in the agricultural sector, replacing Tajik and Kyrgyz farmers who have also migrated to Russia in search of work. Children feel duty bound to help their parents, and join their parents to work in the fields.
Child labor also remains a problem in Uzbekistan, but due to international criticism the government is discouraging the practice, although no official statements concerning the problem have been issued. In 2012 UNICEF, which monitored the fields during the cotton-picking season, reported a decrease in child workers. Growing rural poverty and no adequate social welfare protection system, leaves rural children vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation. Children are typically recruited by women from their own village and trafficked to Kazakhstan. Local NGOs report that internal trafficking of women from villages to Tashkent is also increasing, although the government prefers not recognize the problem.