Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A trip to Rodina


Greetings again from Astana! I have been fortunate enough to have some extremely interesting conversations with respect to land reform, agriculture and politics in Kazakhstan. I have additional meetings planned, so I will refrain from extensive commentary for now. That said, I wanted to share some photos from today.

I was fortunate to accompany a group of Russian journalists visiting the dairy production farm owned by Ivan Sauer. Sauer is of German origin but was born and raised in Kazakhstan. Having first joined the firm in the 1970s, during the Soviet Union, Sauer has since led the facility for nearly 29 years. He is largely considered an authoritative voice on agriculture in the country.

While we were unable to meet with Sauer, due to a last-minute commitment on his part, it was nonetheless interesting to tour the facility. While I am certainly not an agrobusiness expert, walking through a cow ranch and driving through the Rodina complex in my business clothes was a thrill. More seriously, having toured the Talgo facility and other factories in the Astana Industrial Zone, it was interesting to observe an enterprise that was established during the Soviet era (specifically 1961), and whose structure has largely since been preserved. The business still grants generous social benefits to workers, such as a 200,000 tenge bonus for a family expecting a child.

Rodina does not, however, export products overseas. Most of Rodina's milk products are sent to Astana, with grain and other goods delivered to other parts of Kazakhstan. When I asked our guide, and the vice manager of Rodina, if the change in the valuation of the tenge affected the business, he responded that it does, but failed to go into detail. The biggest impact of tenge devaluation in this respect is probably on the price of commodities. But since the firm is largely established and not in need of start-up capital, I presume it is weathering the storm alright.

Some fun facts about Rodina and agriculture in Kazakhstan:

First, grain constitutes around 40% of Rodina's annual revenues. This is actually quite standard for agriculture in the Northern Oblasts of Kostanai, Akmola, Karaganda and Northern Kazakhstan Oblast. Agricultural enterprises in these provinces tend to include large land holders and producers of commodities such as grain, potato and soy, according to Kairat Bissetayev, Chairman of the Board of the Union of Potato and Vegetable Growers of Kazakhstan (more on my interview with Bissetayev later).

Second, as seen in a photograph, the plant partly relies on power from the wind turbine, which produces 750 KWh/hour. This helps the firm reduce power costs and increase energy efficiency, while taking advantage of the wind on the steppe.

Third, as seen in the photo, Rodina has a lot of cows. Over 500 to be precise. They are all from Holland and are "the Netherlands variety", which is apparently the best in the business.

Fourth, the private homes in the photo were actually a result of a joint project between Rodina enterprise, the government program "Kazakhstan 2020" and the program "Nurly Zhol." Insofar as most of the 625 employees of Rodina live and work in the enterprise complex -- and their kids go to the local school -- the Rodina management provides housing.

Comrades, that's all for now...more to come...

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Back to Astana this week!


We're back on the road. Off to Astana to cover the Astana Economic Forum and the recent land protests. Stay tuned!