SOIL & GRASS

Kazakhstan 2017 | AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: ORGANIC GROWTH

With vast natural pastures, Kazakhstan is extremely well positioned to become a major producer of organic agricultural products. As agriculture demonstrates increasing potential to become a driver of the economy, the government's new legislation on organic farming will boost the country's production and export of quality organic products.

Kazakhstan's agricultural sector is one of the most promising sectors of the country's diversification strategy, yet its potential remains largely untapped. The country is already among the top-five producers of wheat and is one of the largest exporters of flour; however, the government is determined to diversify its agricultural production away from wheat toward oilseeds, fruit and vegetables, corn, sugarbeets, livestock, and, in particular, organic production.

In late 2016, the government launched a new State Program of Agro-Industrial Complex Development in 2017-2021 with the ultimate goal of creating competitive products that will be in great demand in global markets. Besides fostering the production of other types of grain and establishing a new exports center to promote the country's agricultural products in new markets, the program also envisages boosting organic production, including grain. Indeed, there was no legal framework on organic products until January 2016, when President Nazarbayev signed a bill on organic farming.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), organic farming is a system that instead of relying on external agricultural inputs is based on ecosystem management and takes into consideration “potential environmental and social impacts by eliminating the use of synthetic inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, veterinary drugs, genetically modified seeds and breeds, preservatives, additives, and irradiation." The potential for organic agriculture in Kazakhstan is significant as a large percentage of the country's vast pastures do not require any form of artificial feeding. Timur Nurashev, Deputy Head of the Industrial Development Committee, said Kazakhstan currently has over 300,000ha of agricultural land that is certified as organic. Nurashev also noted that promoting organic products should be Kazakhstan's main export strategy for the coming years, which is a direct reflection of Nazarbayev's view: “Made in Kazakhstan should become a benchmark of organic food products," the President said in early 2017.
At a media briefing in 2015, Zhibek Azhibayeva, Secretary of the Trade Committee at Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan, said Kazakhstan's market for organic products at the time was estimated at KZT95 billion. The demand for organic products has risen steadily in Kazakhstan in recent years, and in 2016 alone the country exported USD10 million in organic agricultural products. Of particular note was the organic meat sector, as neighboring China and booming markets such as Russia and Iran have shown increasing interest in “Made in Kazakhstan" organic beef. Gulmira Isayeva, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, had noted during a government meeting in November 2016 that Kazakhstan was witnessing growing demand for organic meat from China. The two countries are cooperating on an agreement under which Kazakhstan will supply organic meat; in particular, Kazakhstan will supply between 50,000 and 60,000 tons of beef and 300,000 tons of lamb.

However, meat is not the only promising product for the development of Kazakhstan's organic exports. Organic grain, vodka, and wine as well as organic apples are other highly requested products. In fact, not many outside of Kazakhstan know that the country—in particular its former capital Almaty, whose name in Kazakh (Alma-Ata) means “grandfather of apples"—is indeed the birthplace of apples, and that all modern domestic apples sold in supermarkets all over the world are most likely descended from a species of wild apple endemic to the Almaty region. Apples are among the most consumed fruit, particularly in Europe and North America, where demand for organic apples now exceeds supply. And China, a net exporter of apples, is in fact a net importer of organic apples, as Dinmukhamet Idrissov, Chairman of Ordabasy Group, told TBY.

Ethan Roland, head of the Massachusetts-based Apios Institute of Regenerative Perennial Agriculture, said in early 2016 that all Kazakhstani agriculture was organic until less than 100 years ago and it has sustained itself for thousands of years. Now, greener farming is not only in line with the country's gradual shift to a green economy and sustainability but the new organic farming legislation is a further step toward replanting the organic concept in the country and positioning Kazakhstan as a top international organic producer.