When state-run farms broke up at the fall of the Soviet Union, “everyone started killing anything that moved,” says [Beibit] Yerubayev [The cowboy with an MBA]. Within eight years of independence, the cattle population fell from 9.5 million to 4 million. In 2011, the IMF said Kazakhstan’s agricultural sector accounted for more than a quarter of employment but only 6 percent of GDP.Making it too expensive for the average Kazakhi, but not the oil-rich government bureaucrat.
The process of reviving the industry is capital-intensive. Kazbeef, for example, sources all its purebreds from Global Beef in North Dakota. The cows arrive packed, 180 at a time, in chartered Boeing 747s. The flight over runs between $360,000 and $580,000, says Global Beef co-owner Daniel Price.
Russia’s sudden import bans [on Western foodstuffs] have energized agricultural officials across Central Asia. “Kazakhstan sees an opportunity to increase the supply of agricultural products to Russia,” such as beef, lamb, pork, vegetables and melons, says Amina Akhmetzhanova of the Agriculture Ministry’s Department of Livestock Production and Processing. Russian officials have called on former Soviet states to up production as the price of staples, including beef, rises following the ban.Though the plot thickens;
While Kazakhstan stands to gain by upping its own exports, the economic slowdown in Russia, exacerbated by Western sanctions, threatens to pull down Kazakhstan as well, officials fear. Trade turnover between the two plummeted 24 percent in the first six months of this year, according to Kazakhstan’s statistics agency.