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Glowing Reports

While we were interviewing farmers in Southern Kazakhstan, some interesting things came up during discussions about exports. A number of farmers complained of unfairly high quality standards that prevented them from participating in export markets. One criteria that came up a few times was testing grain for radiation.

That really got me thinking and I’ve finally had time to do a little research this week. I am so embarrassed that I did not know this before. But, Kazakhstan is one of the world’s leading radiation hot spots because the Soviets conducted above ground nuclear testing there for 40 years. Kazakhstan was the first (and maybe only) nation to divest itself of nuclear armaments, knowing the price first hand.

I don’t know what we can do about this – it is really outside of our scope. I also don’t know how it will impact our work at this point. But, the context is critical.

Reflections

I’m catching up on some work and some beloved sleep since returning to Idaho. Once I’ve had a little time to clear my head, I still have some reflections on Kazakhstan that I’d like to share. For example, we had a terrible time getting through passport control on the way home and that is worth a short story in itself. Many good friends have asked me to blog about that and I promise to shortly.

While I am regrouping, I have something else to share. My team at WSU has been managing a wonderful program in Malawi for the past 20 years. It is called Total Land Care and they have done an excellent job of improving the livelihoods of area farmers. We have recently launched a fun web site that makes it easy to give useful help to the rural people who interact with our program. The site is called Ripple Effect and it will help you buy a goat, or a well, or a hive of bees or any number of small things that change people’s lives in big ways.

Green City

Before coming to Almaty, I had a hard time visualizing what it might be like. Just as with very old maps with drawings of dragons in the unknown places, this region of Central Asia had dragons on my own mental map. Even with no expectations, I continue to be amazed with all the trees in the city. Literally every single street is lined with carefully maintained and beautiful trees. I am sure they do a lot to keep pollution down. But, more than that, there add a gentleness to the place that is really lovely. My colleague David is in the process of moving here and says he enjoys the trees too. But since he doesn’t know the city, he is having to learn new ways to orient himself because the trees block views of any landmarks. It really is like finding your way in a forest.

my view walking down a city sidewalk to lunch yesterday. This could be anywhere - every street has trees like this

my view walking down a city sidewalk to lunch yesterday. This could be anywhere - every street has trees like this

Father Apple

I have not gotten a straight translation, but have been told that Almaty means Apple Place, Apple City or Father Apple. The long and short is that this is where apples come from. Wild stock remains in the area and markets are filled with hundreds of varieties. People from this region of Kazakhstan are rightfully proud of this horticultural heritage.

On our last day of interviews, I met a man who had an amazing orchard with an even more amazing story. During Soviet times, there was a very large farm collective near Uzanagash and this man worked as the artist for the farm. During the collapse when the farm was dismantled for privatization, the apple orchard was chopped down and burned. He saved seeds from ten varieties partly out of pride for nearby Almaty’s namesake.

Since then, he managed to secure what many would see as a sorry plot of land – 20 hectares of riverbank slope. But, he has turned it into a little paradise, terracing all the way down to the water and planting his beloved apples.

Father Apple himself

Father Apple himself

Maybe because he is an artist at heart, his orchard was very picturesque with pretty views of the water and his paint box set up in case he needed to capture some vision. It was also well managed. We saw so many farmers who could not afford fertilizer, but who were letting their manure pile up just wasted. This orchard had a few inches of good sheep manure on the floor around the trees doing its job.

The Orchardist asked if we would like to try one of his favorites. Naturally we said yes, but instead of picking one or two, he shook the tree and apples all plopped down into the manure. He rinsed them off in a bucket of dirty looking river water and handed one to me with such pride I could not refuse. It may indeed have been the best apple I ever had and no, I did not get sick. I just felt lucky to meet this tenacious and creative man who is truly an artist who can make something beautiful out of anything.

Meeting Yurts

We are starting a new series of farm interviews in a new Province and having fun figuring out how the new region works. At the end of the day, we have a central place to meet in the field to sum up our findings. This time, it is a collection of roadside yurts that also serve great Shashlik so we can have our meeting and dinner at the same time. What could be better?

Our meeting site with a view of the Alatau (of Ten Chen Mountains) in the background

Our meeting site with a view of the Alatau (of Ten Chen Mountains) in the background

Lynne and Jerman ready to start. The textile behind them is all hand felted. It is gorgeous

Lynne and Jerman ready to start. The textile behind them is all hand felted. It is gorgeous

Tom leading the meeting. This is probably the first time someone has used a flip chart in that yurt. The yurt had a little crystal chandelier at the top so we could keep going after the sun went down

Tom leading the meeting. This is probably the first time someone has used a flip chart in that yurt. The yurt had a little crystal chandelier at the top so we could keep going after the sun went down

Bird Watching

One of the small pleasures of traveling for work is having the opportunity to see some cool new birds. This part of the world is brand spanking new for me and many of the birds are too. I really want to find an ID book because I’ve seen so many beauties. There are a few that are beautifully colored and that came as an unexpected surprise because the landscape is so similar to my home landscape that has very few colorful birds. I’ll try to get some pictures. So far, I have been unable to catch any with my camera.

I did see quite a few Hoopoes in fields. Aren’t they beautiful?

image of a Hoopoe from Wikimedia Commons

image of a Hoopoe from Wikimedia Commons

Markets

We have visited a number of fascinating markets since arriving because understanding the agricultural marketing system is an important facet of our research. The little roadside stands are lots of fun because many of them are managed by the farmers themselves. But, the big bazaar in Almaty is amazing. We spent most of an afternoon there last week and I hope to get back again today. It is a feast for the senses and fascinating to explore. One of the first observations I could see was that it was organized exactly the opposite of American markets. It says so much about the way we manage our food and the way we live. Our shops are masses of highly processed food with a little strip of fresh-whole  food around the that comes from industrial farms.

The markets here in Kazakhstan are exactly the opposite. They are giant masses of fresh-whole foods in the center with a little strip of processed food (candy, flour, coffee, cookies, boxed cereal) around the edges. The produce is simply gorgeous. I have seen at least 100 different kinds of fresh tomatoes, giant piles of fresh herbs, many varieties of cucumbers, apples etc. They all look home grown and the varieties are bred for flavor and cooking not for shipping as ours tend to be.

Ladies marketing their produce - check out the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. That is just expected here.

Ladies marketing their produce - check out the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. That is just expected here.

This lady was really sweet. She insisted on putting out a picture of the bird who laid the little eggs so I could show people at home and then she posed for the picture.

This lady was really sweet. She insisted on putting out a picture of the bird who laid the little eggs so I could show people at home and then she posed for the picture.

There are a lot of different ethnic groups here because this land seems to have been a serious cross road for centuries. The different groups appear to remain distinct, but nobody takes themselves too seriously and they all seem to get along including Muslims and Christians. The market is the same, with different ethnic groups taking control of different markets and it all works pretty well. The majority of the produce was sold by Kazakh women, although there were some Russians as well. The horse meat, lamb and poultry was sold by Kazakh women. Pork was sold by Russian woman only. Dried fruit and nuts were sold by Uzbek men. Finally, there is a rather large group of Korean here who were displaced during WWII. They have a big section of the market where they have a deli with hundreds of Korean salads, Kimchee and special spices.

Uzbek men selling nuts and dried fruit

Uzbek men selling nuts and dried fruit