Uzbek authorities have instructed school children to grow cotton seedlings at home that can later be planted at large cotton plantations, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
Students in some regions have been told to use rolled paper and earth to plant 400 seedlings and to bring them to school as homework.
Officials are saying that the new method of planting the seedlings will help farmers plant cotton after the wheat fields have been harvested.
Uzbek school children are used heavily during harvest season to bring in the cotton crop, a practice that has received harsh international criticism and led to some boycotts of Uzbek cotton
Uzbekistan, the second-largest cotton exporter in the world, has been compared to China, where people are forced to remove insects and pollinate large fruit orchards by hand.
A father in Uzbekistan's fertile Ferghana region told RFE/RL that "Our children are doing these paper bags [plantings] instead of sleeping well."
He said he and his 13-year-old son do the planting at home and sometimes during school hours.
But a local school official told RFE/RL that the students are willingly helping farmers.
I'm no agro-economist, but it does strike me as a bit odd. Are the crops really supposed to offer a reasonable yield? With Uzbekistan's vast cotton fields, this would seem to be a drop in the ocean.
If it weren't for the accusations of child slavery
often thrown Uzbekistan's way, it might even be seen as progressive -- outsourcing for the common good and educational at the same time. The show-and-tell that yields.
But, as we've written before
, instead it looks like a way of having Uzbeks dirty their hands with cotton from the cradle to the grave.
-- Uzbek Service/Luke Allnutt