Organic Farming in Kazakhstan

In February, Ethan Roland was interviewed by Kazakhstan’s Astana Times for a feature article on organic farming in Kazakhstan. The full article, with additional photographs of the wild apple forests, is included below. It originally appeared at”


Draft law on organic farming awaits vote; private initiatives work to support organic development

ASTANA – As Kazakhstan pushes to develop its agricultural sector with increased funding for farming even in times of belt-tightening, organic farming and permaculture experts are hoping the concepts maintain a foothold in the country.

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Ethan Roland Soloviev overlooking wild seaberry shrubs, apple forests, walnut groves near Alma Arasen, Almaty.

Though overlooked in recent decades, the practices are part of the country’s not-too-distant past, and today, Kazakhstan is working toward exporting its own ecologically “clean” products under its own national brand, Vice Minister of Agriculture Yermek Kosherbayev said during a seminar on supporting the development of organic agriculture and institutional capacity-building in Kazakhstan in Astana on Feb. 27. However, Kosherbayev said, a lack of legislation is slowing the process down.

“Until less than 100 years ago, all Kazakh agriculture was organic,” Ethan Roland, head of the nonprofit Apios Institute of Regenerative Perennial Agriculture based in Massachusetts, told The Astana Times in a Feb. 27 interview. “And it sustained itself for literally thousands of years. … In my opinion, the current ‘development’ of Kazakh (and most other global ‘green revolution’) agriculture towards fossil-fuel-dependent industrial monoculture is highly unsustainable. This alone will drive a shift to more climatically and culturally appropriate agriculture.”

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Wild rose hips in apple forest area.

Moving Away From a Destructive Past

A Nov. 24 roundtable discussion organized by the Astana Centre of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the ULE Coalition for a Green Economy and the Development of G-Global brought together government, business and nongovernmental organization representatives to discuss the state’s role in supporting organic farming, including providing incentives, as well as specific agricultural technologies.

“The current methods of farming in Kazakhstan are leading to the destruction of natural vegetation that protects the land from erosion and accelerate the process of soil mineralization, which result in drastic decline of its fertility, crops yields and harvest as a whole,” said head of the OSCE’s Astana Centre Natalia Zarudna at the roundtable, as reported by the Times of Central Asia on March 14. Organic farming practices could contribute to solving the problem, she said.

An OSCE report on the discussion said that the group noted that developing organic farming and implementing Kazakhstan’s transition to a green economy depend a great deal on the development of appropriate legislation and government regulation, as well as using domestic and international experience effectively.

Participants called for active policies to stimulate innovation and gain experience and offered 12 concrete recommendations. These included bringing the Ministries of Agriculture and Energy together with the roundtable organizers to draft regulations based on international experience and increase awareness of the green economy transition and organic farming in Kazakhstan; creating an online exhibition of Kazakhstan’s innovative, organic products for EXPO 2017 in Astana; involving Kazakhs more deeply in the organic agriculture category of G-Global’s annual EXPO 2017 competition and passing a draft law on organic agriculture. (The draft law sets out the provision of state support for organic agriculture, including setting rules for labelling organic products from Kazakhstan.)

At a media briefing on March 12, Zhibek Azhibayeva, secretary of the Trade Committee of the Kazakhstan’s National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, said Kazakhstan’s organic products market had been estimated at more than $500 million and that plans were in place to introduce an organic products production chain, the Times of Central Asia reported.

According to Azhibayeva,150,000 hectares of farmland in Kostanai oblast have been certified as eco-friendly. At the Feb. 27 seminar, the Kazakhstan Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (KAZFOAM) reported that 25 farms in Almaty, Kostanai and North Kazakhstan have 296,000 hectares of certified ecologically clean fields.

However, the country’s legacy of environmental damage can be felt today. According to the report, the Agriculture Ministry said 21.4 million hectares of land were used for agriculture in 2014, which should be increased to 22.5 million hectares by 2018. However, according to Deputy General director of the Kazakh Research Institute of the Agroindustrial Complex and Rural Development Vladimir Grigoruk, “according to our calculations, it is possible today to grow on only 11.5 million hectares of arable land, as the rest of the area, almost half, is polluted by industrial waste, various chemicals, buried animals or radioactive waste.”


Wild apple forests at site with grapes, hops, licorice, and other economically useful species.

Replanting Organic Roots

Roland is working with the Kazakh Research Institute of Fruit Growing and Viticulture (KazNIIPiV) in Almaty and the Institute for Ecological and Social Development (IESD) in Almaty. They work primarily on preserving and regenerating the biodiversity of Kazakhstan’s apple forests, but also plan to branch out into other areas of biodiverse farming.

“This work is just beginning,” Roland told The Astana Times. “Some of my colleagues … have been working on different aspects of this – e.g. IESD promoting sound agricultural practices within the matrix of the existing biodiverse apple forests. Going forward, we intend to offer workshops on the benefits of biodiverse farming and explore research projects.” He expects to find a receptive audience. His Kazakh colleagues are also enthusiastic about developing organic agriculture, Roland said, especially as its products will likely demand higher prices in local and export markets.

Raul Karychev, laboratory chief at KazNIIPiV, told The Astana Times on March 10 that his institute is studying and implementing elements of organic fruit growing, including identifying varieties most adapted to local conditions and which don’t need chemical treatments and studying adaptive orchard design and crown formation systems, drip irrigation, high-technology farming, organic fertilizer and more.

With international partners including the Apios Institute, the institute has established wild fruit ecosystems in the Zaili Alatau region, Karychev said. He also noted that the Horticulture Master Plan of the Agribusiness 2020 Programme provides for a phased increase in orchard areas in Kazakhstan. “The Kazakh government has embarked on the green economy, so the area of organic orchards and the demand for environmentally friendly products will only grow,” he said.



Wild apple forests, cultivated orchards, overlooking Almaty.

From Wild Apples to Sustainable Traditions

“The wild apple forests of Kazakhstan are part of one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots – it is one of the centers of origins of many fruits, and could potentially hold the keys to a sustainable agriculture of the future,” Roland says. But beyond apples, Kazakhstan also has an important agricultural tradition, and one which is beginning to be recognized and supported.

“Kazakh food production has a fascinating and beautiful history, with two interwoven threads of livestock-focused semi-nomadism and advanced mountainside and outwash valley horticulture,” Roland explained. Now is the time to look back to the country’s early food production methods.

The country’s grasslands and forests would be particularly well-suited to organic and biodiverse agriculture, he said. “Modern ‘organic’ agriculture often does not do much more than change the sprays and offer a bit of focus on soil health. If the overall framework is still industrial-scale tillage, then ‘organic’ alone isn’t much of an improvement.” He proposes instead regenerative agriculture, permaculture and carbon farming.

“In the long term,” Roland said, “I believe that truly sustainable economic and ecological growth will come from Kazakhstan focusing on its ancient agricultural history and incredible resources.”

These include biodiverse food forests and vast grasslands, which can produce useful yields with little to no input, Roland said. “Mimicking the natural Kazakh ecosystems could produce a new form of mixed perennial agriculture, with many opportunities for unique value-added products.” Among these products could be fruits like pears, plums, peaches and many more; nuts; a variety of berries; vegetables; herbs; honey and maple syrup; plus some smaller livestock. Most of these, Roland said, have been part of Kazakhstan’s indigenous ecosystem for years.

Kazakhstan’s grasslands, if managed holistically, could be systems adaptable enough to withstand changing climates, weather and politics and that could produce enough meat for domestic and export markets, Roland said, sustaining horses, sheep, goats, deer, elk, buffalo and other smaller animals producing cheese, yogurt, kumis, leather and fur.

“The Kazakh people are brilliant and resilient,” Roland concluded. “Despite attempts to crush nomadic culture and massive apple forest biodiversity, Kazakhstan’s ecosystems and organic farmers can hold the key to a sustainable and regenerative future.”

Edible Landscaping in New York’s Hudson Valley

This month, AppleSeed Permaculture was featured in the Hudson Valley Magazine article, “Landscaping and Gardening with Edible Plants and Fruits.” Owner and Project Manager Dyami Nason-Regan was interviewed for the article alongside gardening guru Lee Reich. This is a great step towards a resilient local food system for the Hudson Valley of NY – if you haven’t got your edible landscape designed for this spring, call us today!

You can read the whole excellent article here:

Permaculture Orchard Renovation

(Note from Ethan: This post is a final design report by the 2010 AppleSeed Permaculture Interns Brandy Hall (Ashevillage Institute & owner of Shades of Green, Inc) and Evan Schoepke (Gaia Punk Design Co-op & Punk Rock Permaculture E-Zine). The full design presentation is included as a slideshow at the end of the post. AppleSeed Permaculture is currently accepting applications for our 2011 Internship program – click here to learn more.)

Design Challenge

We set out to address the challenges of an existing five-acre orchard which had not been managed in five years…

Continue reading

Why Edible Landscaping? Top 30 Plants

Would you like to turn your lawn or garden into an abundant edible oasis? The following slideshow will offer you the basic reasoning, principles, and plants to transform your home or workplace. AppleSeed Permaculture is also available for consulting so that you can choose the appropriate plants and plant communities for your particular site.

Ethan Roland of AppleSeed Permaculture presented this slideshow in September 2010 for two incredible organizations: The Kismet Rock Foundation in North Conway, NH and The Alchemy Juice Bar & Mama-lution in West Hartford CT. Both organizations are doing excellent social and ecological world-change work, and we highly recommended that you support their projects… Continue reading

Permaculture for Farmers: Crops, Patterns, Polycultures

Every time Benneth Phelps (Mosaic Farm) and I prepare to give this talk (this time at the 2010 Northeastern Organic Farm Association Summer Conference) we end up tearing it apart and redesigning it completely. Here’s a sample polyculture from the talk:

This time, Benneth drew on her recent experience creating a complete business plan for her venture Mosaic Farm in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachussets. We articulated a new design permaculture process for farmers, who need to focus on specific marketable crops along with the larger landscape patterns necessary to support and maintain them.

For a summary of our new design process, Continue reading

Young Farmers Conference 2009 – Permaculture for Farmers & Ecosystem Investing

Young Farmers Conference 2009:

Permaculture for Farmers & Ecosystem Investing

Below are the slideshows and handouts for the two workshops I presented last week at the Young Farmers Conference, held at the incredible Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Let me know what you think in the comments – and Enjoy!

Permaculture for Farmers

[slideshare id=2669780&doc=pcforfarmersslideshow09-091207175232-phpapp02]

Download the handout by clicking on the image below.

Permaculture for Farmers Handout


Ecosystem Investing

Download the handout by clicking on the image below.

Ecosystem Investing Handout

Backyard Bounty: Permaculture is Taking Root

AppleSeed Permaculture was featured alongside gardening guru Lee Reich in a recent issue of the locally-focused Chronogram magazine. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Not-So-Strange Fruit
Ethan Roland teaches and practices permaculture at the Epworth Center in High Falls. His goal is “to establish local food security and deliciousness in a time of dramatic change.” He talks about each separate polyculture planting as a metaphor for the movement as a whole; as they grow and spread outward, he will mow less and less space between them until they connect to form a complete fabric.

[Lee Reich, Ethan Roland] …and other experts provide advice, classes, and assistance in making some positive changes to the flora around our homes and doing it in a way that works for us. We don’t all need to become self-sufficient overnight. But if we make choices that gently move us in that direction, relying less on imports, spending more time (and less money) connecting with our food—and enjoying luscious fruit along the way—we can spend less, eat better, and have enviable yards. What’s not to like?

You can read the whole thing over at the Chronogram website:


Lee Reich
Ethan Roland
Green Phoenix Permaculture
Catskill Native Nursery

Ethan Roland’s Top 5 DIY Permaculture Books
1. Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway (2009, Chelsea Green)

2. Edible Forest Gardens, Volumes I and II by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier (2005, Chelsea Green)

3. Food Not Lawns by Heather Coburn Flores (2006, Chelsea Green)

4. Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich (2009, Storey Publishing)

5. Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies by Owen Dell (2009, For Dummies Press)

Ethan Rolands’s Top 5 Regional Permaculture Nurseries

1. Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonkson
2. MiCosta Nurseries, Columbia County
3. St. Lawrence Nurseries, Potsdam
4. Tripplebrook Farm, Southampton, Massachusetts
5. Oikos Tree Crops, Michigan