Bumper Harvest Points to True Kazakhstan Development

Much has been made of the economic and cultural development of Kazakhstan in recent years. Massive oil and mineral revenues have transformed a previously impoverished former republic of the Soviet Union into an emerging regional power. Astana, the capital, is bedecked with grand architectural designs and pristine new thoroughfares which have helped increase foreign investment in the country.

Astana has not been afraid to show off its oil wealth
Astana has not been afraid to show off its oil wealth

Whilst the Kazakhstan government would no doubt like Astana to be seen as the embodiment of the whole country, the reality remains that over a quarter of the population (26%) still makes its livelihood from agriculture.

That said, the news that the country’s farmers are drawing a yield of 1.18 tonnes of grain per hectare in comparison to last year’s 0.83 tonnes is significant. With 8.2 million tonnes of grain extracted from only half of this year’s harvest, Kazakhstan is set for a bumper year.

Large tracts of Steppe land have been transformed into wheat fields
Large tracts of Steppe land have been transformed into wheat fields

 

Whilst it is unknown whether these yields will be attained in the northern provinces yet to harvest, the quality of Kazakh wheat is adjudged to be better than its Russian equivalent. This means that not only is Kazakhstan likely to enjoy record exports of wheat and flour (based on quality as well as quantity) but its population should have no fears of malnourishment.

For a country such as Kazakhstan, where many people remain wedded to the land, this last point is poignant. Few states have suffered famine like Kazakhstan, which was at the forefront of Stalinist collectivization efforts that sacrificed the working poor for the good of the industrial dwellers.

In 1932-33, the Kazakh Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic was subjected to one of the worst recorded famines in history. Soviet officials confiscated livestock from the largely nomadic Kazakh people as part of attempts to collectivize animals. The unsurprising result was loss of livelihood, mass starvation, population displacement and upward of 1.5 million deaths, approximately 38% of Kazakhstan’s population.

It was not as if there was no land to cultivate either. Over 1 million European settlers had been moved into Kazakh territory by the communist government of the Soviet Union to preside over a rape of the land for the benefit of their own ethnic groups. Whilst this has led to claims of genocide (in Ukraine as well as Kazakhstan) it was more the unintended and uncaring consequence of a short-sighted and self-serving policy which, coupled with climatic anomalies, created mass death.

Graveyards overflowed as grain was shipped out of Kazakhstan by the Stalinist government
Graveyards overflowed as grain was shipped out of Kazakhstan by the Stalinist government

Post-WWII Kazakhstan fared little better with periods of famine interspersed amongst years of borderline survival. Rudimentary agricultural techniques were retained as the Soviet bias towards heavy industry persisted.

For Kazakhstan today, reinvestment from the spoils of the oil and mineral industries has provided the country’s agricultural base with a potential far greater than mere self-sufficiency.

This fact alone is reason to celebrate Kazakhstan’s development. Few people working the land are now genuinely at risk from suffering the historic woe of famine. This, more than the fancy buildings and colonnades of Astana, is testament to change.

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NSA Espionage Must Not Upset Strong US-Brazil Relations

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has cancelled a proposed visit to the US amid accusations that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on top officials in the Brazilian government and its state-owned oil industry. Despite a promise to personally look into the matter, Barack Obama has seemingly not done enough to appease the Brazilian population, something Ms Rousseff is keenly aware of.

The timing of the suspension of the visit is in many ways unfortunate for Brazil, which needs to retain strong trade ties with the US to revive its stumbling economy which is beginning to stagnate after years of strong growth.

Furthermore, the Brazil-US relationship is historically one of the most friendly in the Americas and for the two regional powers to fall out over what is a fairly trivial matter is potentially destabilising.

Before the espionage scandal, Rousseff and Obama had been on good terms
Before the espionage scandal, Rousseff and Obama had been on good terms

Much has been made of the fact that the US was the first country to recognise Brazilian independence from Portugal in 1824. Additionally, the democratic constitution of the Brazilian First Republic, approved in 1891, had much in common with its American counterpart, showing the influence the US was to exert over the ‘new’ states of Latin America which, like itself, had escaped from years of colonial rule.

During the 1930s Getulio Vargas, the Brazilian President, expanded economic ties with the US with American technology allowing Brazil to establish a modern industrial base. When war broke out between Nazi Germany and the European Allies, Vargas allowed the Americans to build military bases in Northern Brazil for use against German U-Boats in the Atlantic. In return, Vargas extracted generous loans and technological assistance to aid Brazilian development.

The Volta Redonda Steel Mill was a result of American loans
The Volta Redonda Steel Mill was a result of American loans

Vargas even sent 25,000 Brazilian troops to fight the Nazis in Italy alongside the US Fifth Army, albeit in 1944 when the tide of war had turned in the Allies’ favour.

There were some more dubious aspects to the US-Brazilian relationship in the 20th century, particularly the 1964 coup d’etat that saw the overthrow of the left-leaning president Joao Goulart by the Brazilian Armed Forces with poorly-veiled American support. Nevertheless, at a time when socialist government was being revealed as inherently weak in other parts of the world, it could be argued that the US did Brazil a favour.

Between 1964 and 1984 Brazil was under military rule, during which time the US was a willing ally, pleased as it was to have another large anti-communist country in close proximity to home. Richard Nixon even went as far as to plan the overthrow of left-wing leaders in Latin America, such as Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende, with the complicity of Brazilian ruler Emilio Medici.

Medici and Nixon - America was keen to lend support to any anti-communist government at the time
Medici and Nixon – America was keen to lend support to any anti-communist government at the time

A return to civilian rule only strengthened Brazil-US relations as the Brazilian economy relied heavily on American loans and technology transfer to avoid the worst of the Latin American debt crisis at the end of the last century. Whilst Brazilian borrowing has remained at an unsustainable level, American debt write-offs and negotiations through the American-dominated IMF have helped prevent economic meltdown.

Such strong relations need to be preserved; the Americas still remains a divisive continent and leadership from its bigger countries is essential. There is no excusing NSA espionage, particularly against the political and economic interests of a supposed ally.

Yet Brazil cannot afford to be too nationalistic and proud. The American market remains essential if South America’s largest country is to join the world elite. Whilst no doubt disappointed by the revelations, the US government knows it can bide its time and has no reason to move quickly towards a full confession and apology.

Such is the way in the ranking of states; the weak can only be principled for so long.