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Lessons for Kazakhstan agriculture from Wisconsin

December 10 2014, 11:06

Kazakhstan has the possibility of becoming the breadbasket of central Asia, and Arman Sultanbek wants to make that happen, bnews.kz refer to WiscNews.

The 39-year-old Sultanbek, an engineer, became interested in Kazakhstan’s farmers during a 1997 economic downturn in that nation. He looks to learn from Wisconsin’s farmers because they are among the most efficient in the United States, and also the most entrepreneurial. Both are qualities Sultanbek is trying to take home to Kazakhstan.

The former Soviet-bloc state located between Russia and China, now an independent nation, is best known for oil and space flight, through its housing the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the long-time home of Russian space flight and the place where the first manned spacecraft was launched n 1961. Russia leases Baikonour’s launch sites, which cover an area 56 miles across. That leaves the rest of Kazakhstan’s area, about 16 times larger than Wisconsin, open for farming.

To learn more about agriculture, Sultanbek traveled to Wisconsin as a guest of the University of Wisconsin–Extension program, which brought him through this part of the state. He said he has found his main challenge in developing Kazakh agriculture is to move the country’s farmers away from the old Soviet-era mindset of state-controlled farming. He encourages them to want to make money with their farms rather than be passive and waiting for government orders.

In the old Soviet-era system, there was one major customer — the government — and no incentive to make the most of a farmer’s crops.

“They don’t have a long-range strategy. They had only a half year to plan,” Sultanbek said.

He has learned how to explain the potential of Kazakhstan’s farmers through the power of capitalist agricultural cooperatives. Examples of that can found with the Allied, CHS and Ocean Spray cooperatives that are prominent in Wisconsin. All three groups assist member farmers in marketing crops, especially the Ocean Spray coop that is so prominent in marketing cranberry products.

Those coops also are effective in matching farmers to supplies they can use, especially CHS, which is best known to non-farmers for its CENEX fuel branch. That expands the cooperative’s potential customers to non-farmers to make money with a wide range of non-farmers.

Sultanbek pointed to matching farmers with suppliers as a major weakness of Kazakh agriculture, a place where both farmers and suppliers are losing opportunities. 

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