Returning the Steppe  |  Kazakhstan

The petroglyphs in the small dry creek valley still tell the story. It’s widely believed the domestication of animals and cowboy culture originated here on the Eurasian Steppes of Kazakhstan nearly 10,000 years ago.

Today, few men ride horses, but many in Kazakhstan believe their future depends on their agricultural heritage. Twenty-five years ago on December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving millions of acres of collectivized farms to go fallow. Now, Kazakhstan is hoping to regain their past by utilizing the almost 35 million acres of untapped grassland with a renewed agricultural purpose. Ranchers are investing in cattle and horse herds (horse meat is a delicacy in Kazakhstan), turning ghost farms into livestock farms. Cattle, sheep and horses roam the fence-less landscape of rolling hills and shallow valleys. A new road just north of Almaty connects a hungry China and a wealthy Europe. Russia’s demand for beef is growing rapidly. Kazakhstan sits poised to become a leader in agricultural exports while providing food to its own population.

A new road being built to connect China to Europe cuts directly through Kazakh Steppe offers an opportunity to both the east and the west for this rebooted industry.

Kazakhstan, with its ranching tradition, rich grassland resources and a population looking to modernize, sits poised to become a productive middle man, but will they move forward with 21st Century sustainability practices or repeat destructive mistakes of the 20th Century?

MICHAEL HANSON

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