Over the past five years, what major, important changes have occurred in the agriculture of Kazakhstan?
First, I would highlight the development of beef cattle breeding. Although there is a lot of discussion around this initiative, and much more needs to be done. Large investments were made in this industry, and, it must be admitted, certain results have been obtained - the livestock in general is growing and the share of pedigree livestock in particular, the quality of livestock genetics has improved, and beef production is increasing, especially for export markets. New farms and farmers have appeared, in fact, the basis for building a modern meat industry has been formed.
Secondly, I cannot but mention the digitalization of agriculture. The fields are “digitized”, and the monitoring of the use of agricultural lands is transferred to remote methods. Some of the government services related to agriculture are also being converted to electronic format. More and more farms are using various elements of precision farming, feeling in practice the advantages of such technologies. Automated livestock management systems are being introduced, and an information system for pedigree registration has been created. Most importantly, the competence in the field of digital technologies application in the agro-industrial complex is growing, companies of the corresponding profile appear on the market.
Third, I would highlight the opening of new markets for the export of agricultural products, in particular, China and Iran. In China, the potential is far from being exhausted and the steps that have been taken to open the market will have a large and long-term effect. The Chinese market is large and diversified, demand is heterogeneous, and various products can be supplied there in large volumes. In turn, the growing demand can support a further increase in production in Kazakhstan and allow expanding the range. New niches may appear on the sales market, which we did not previously consider as a priority.
Diversification in crop production, although this policy has been quite many years old, and, in my opinion, the potential for diversification is far from being exhausted. The production of alternative crops to wheat is expanding, such as flax, rapeseed, legumes and forage crops. Diversification in crop production is important because it provides new opportunities for farmers, new export niches (like China, for example), more sustainable crop rotations both economically and ecologically. Again, these are new competencies for farmers.
In your opinion, at what stage of the technological chain can significant changes be expected in the near future?
I would again, first of all, single out digitalization in agriculture. In a broad sense, it is an auxiliary set of computer technologies that complement various technological stages in agricultural production as a tool for optimizing the processes of making and improving the quality of management decisions.
The effectiveness of digitalization can be manifested both in the macro and microeconomic context, as well as in the technological, social, and environmental aspects.
This process, so to speak, is limitless. At least the range of digital agricultural technologies known and used in the world is very wide. For example, the boundaries of precision farming technologies, neither in theoretical nor in practical terms, do not exist, and their range depends only on the available resources and economic efficiency in specific conditions.
To summarize my answer to your question: digitalization can affect changes in any stage of the technological chain in agriculture, as well as the technological chain as a whole, starting, for example, from preparation for sowing and ending with distribution of goods. To digitalization, I would add biotechnological methods of breeding both in crop production and in animal husbandry. For example, breeding livestock by transforming embryos makes it possible to more clearly plan and implement plans for the composition and size of the herd. In crop production, these can be technologies for the accelerated creation of varieties and hybrids of crops, which, in particular, are already used in KATU.
Kazakhstan has developed a certain competence in agricultural biotechnology, and if this direction is supported, then the effect can be felt quite quickly (by agricultural standards) - in five years.
Opening up new markets, increasing competition within the country and in exports will certainly accelerate the penetration of biotechnology into the agricultural industry and further develop local competence in these matters.
How long will it take for "digital" to become massive in the domestic agricultural industry?
As I said, there is no rigid framework for digitalization in general. Here, the time that needs to be spent on large-scale development of technologies is inversely proportional to the amount of invested funds.
If we are talking about making electronic soil maps for each field, then if you to divide significant funds for this, it can be done in two or three years.
And if you wait until the farmers find the resources themselves, the process will drag on for a couple of decades. If we are talking about precision seeding technologies, then if we simultaneously modernize existing agricultural machines with appropriate equipment, then this can also be done relatively quickly.
For example, you can install GPS packages on Russian or Belarusian equipment, you can upgrade existing seeders. And if you wait until the farmers begin to get rich and buy John Deer-level equipment themselves, which leaves the factory with such equipment, then this will also take many years.
To summarize: it all depends on the resources, if these are the resources of the farmers themselves, it will take more time; if there is a specific state program (albeit on a repayable basis, or as co-financing), then it will take less time. It's the same with biotechnology. But I want to emphasize that before you start investing resources, you need to understand what we expect from both digitalization and biotechnology. For example, you can buy a robot even tomorrow that walks across the field and pulls out weeds along with the root, without leaving the roots in the soil.
However, this is unlikely to be a profitable investment in our conditions. We need a clear, detailed statement of tasks, we need a high-quality, comprehensive strategy for their implementation, we need specific indicators of what result we are striving for.
A strategy is needed, which would assert, for example, that we see Kazakhstan as a successful producer of oilseeds. A strategy that would indicate which specific oilseeds and for which markets we intend to produce. Based on this, it will become clear what the production economics should be in order for business to go in this direction, and in order to successfully compete in the target market.
The next step is to define the parameters of the strategy in terms of acreage, in terms of market share that we can occupy, and so on. And already through a system of interrelated indicators, it is necessary to build a comprehensive policy, from personnel training and scientific research to subsidies and the development of related industries.
Unfortunately, we do not have such quality strategies. This kind of work is not paid attention to in Kazakhstan, and this, in my opinion, is the reason for the ineffectiveness of many seemingly correct initiatives. We always strive to get the result "right now", but this does not happen, especially in agriculture. If we start to develop digitalization without a strategy, then this will be “burying” money in the ground. But, for example, if we said that the goal of our policy would be the reproduction of soil fertility, then our further steps would be clear, and then we should invest in differentiated fertilization and the creation of soil maps, and, accordingly, the state's investment policy should be built and private traders.
In what areas do you think the situation with personnel is better, and where is worse?
If you look at agriculture in aggregate, there are four categories of main specialists: agronomists, zootechnicians, engineers, and specialists in the field of processing agricultural raw materials.
In fact, the mission of an agronomist is to implement the entire process with maximum efficiency from pre-sowing preparation of seeds and soil to post-harvest processing of the crop. The mission of the zootechnician is to make the increase in livestock and production of products (meat, milk, wool, etc.) as profitable as possible. The task of the engineer is to make the labor of both the agronomist and the breeder as easy as possible through the optimal use of appropriate technical means.
The task of specialists in the field of processing agricultural raw materials is to increase the added value, to produce high-quality and efficient products with the required properties.
These specialties have always been, and they will always be, because this is the basis of the production process in the agro-industrial complex.
And, unfortunately, as far as I can remember, there has always been a shortage of specialists in these professions, and a shortage both in quantity and quality, which, in my opinion, is the most important.
There is still a wide range of specialties related to agriculture - veterinary medicine, plant protection, economy, sales, logistics, power supply, the same digitalization, and so on.
And here, too, there is a certain lack of specialists, especially in terms of quality. Despite the fact that these specialties will not disappear anywhere, there is a problem in that the content of work for each category of specialists will change and change constantly. Technologies are being improved, market conditions are changing, therefore, there is a demand for new competencies.
In fact, this is what I previously called the lack of specialists in terms of the quality of training. For example, at KATU, we started teaching agronomists geographic information systems (GIS), because today they must at least be able to read electronic maps of fields - these skills are necessary for agronomists to apply technologies of "precision farming". In animal husbandry, we must further educate students in basic knowledge and skills in the field of biology and biotechnological methods of animal reproduction: washing out, storage, embryo transfer, survival assessment, and so on.
If we talk about the missing specialties, then here, perhaps, we can highlight the specialty "Rural Sociology".
For example, in the United States, graduates of this specialty are very necessary, highly paid specialists who help to correctly develop agricultural policies at all levels, develop rural communities, turning them into a better place for local residents. They do everything to make residents want to do their job and develop.
From the experience of the United States, I would also adopt a specialty in Agricultural Education, which trains agricultural teachers for schools and specialists - consultants for agriculture. I think if we start teaching the basics of agriculture in the upper grades of rural schools, this will help to retain talented youth in the field.
What do you think, what problem for the development of agriculture should be solved first of all?
When we worked with the University of California at Davis, one well-known professor from this university, at a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, emphasized that as a country we are not starting to develop agriculture from there. We invest in livestock, fertilizers, machinery, etc., and agriculture is, first of all, people. Let's start investing in people, create a comfortable living environment for them, invest in their education, and then nothing else will have to be done, agriculture will start developing by itself. As soon as a person has a normal life, he will start thinking about innovations, how to increase productivity, how to diversify production. This is exactly what happens in the United States, and we put the cart in front of the horse.
Therefore, first of all, I would do everything to radically improve the quality of life in the countryside, turn villages into attractive places for life and business development.
First of all, I would lay high-quality roads in the villages to the nearest city. In essence, this will open up markets for each village. This is how agriculture developed in the United States, where almost every farm can be reached by a normal road. Then, I would provide basic infrastructure in the villages, first of all - water supply, sewerage, heating, uninterrupted electricity, paved sidewalks and streets with lighting. We will do this, and then doctors, teachers, and other professionals will reach out to the village, ensuring the development of social infrastructure. Yes, it is expensive and, possibly, time consuming, but it must be done!
This is the 21st century, and most of our villages still live in the past, if not the century before last. At least those villages where investment projects are being implemented or planned to be implemented, we must bring them into proper condition. Otherwise, no amount of subsidies or other agricultural development efforts will yield results.
Look at the farms that everyone in Kazakhstan knows about:
- AF Rodina LLP,
- SK Agro 2050 LLP,
- Ivan Zenchenko LLP
- all of these are very good farms with good infrastructure. The infrastructure in the Rodina farm is no worse than in any city. Their example makes clear the relationship between the quality of life in the countryside ("good village") and the results of production ("good farming").
I will add that a few years ago we conducted a study that helped to establish that they do not need much for young people to go to work in agriculture.
Approximately 37% of the respondents answered that they would be satisfied with a salary of up to 120 thousand tenge per month, provided that they have the opportunity to run a personal subsidiary farm, there will be a high-quality road to the city, and there will be normal communal conditions (“there is no need for coal in toss the stove in the winter three times a night ... ”), doctor, school.
Another problem is public administration in rural areas.
Rural akims are not trained in Kazakhstan. There is a specialty "State and local government" (I myself am a graduate of this specialty), but the content of this training program does not provide sufficient knowledge and skills for a graduate to work in the village as akim.
When a person comes to a village, everything is completely different there than in a university lecture hall. Let's say there are only 200 people in the village, but you see them every day, and no one except you will solve their problems. If there is no water, then people go to the akim, if something happened, then people again go to the akim.
Figuratively speaking, the rural akim is the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, healthcare, and education.
Therefore, the rural akim must have the appropriate communication skills, knowledge in a wide range of areas (from land management and housing and communal services to social security, law enforcement, and others). But the same is not taught to students of the specialty "state local government". We had an idea to make a special master's program to train rural akims.
Several years ago we conducted a small training on agricultural cooperation for rural akims. These were people, mainly between the ages of 45 and 55, who are ready and willing to learn. They are such a grateful audience, practitioners who need specific answers to specific questions, and most importantly, they know what they want. Now, if it was for such people to make a master's program (it can be remote), or at least elective courses, then, I think, the effect would be positive.
For example, universities do not always study the rules for subsidizing agricultural specialties (agronomists, livestock breeders, even economists). A university graduate is a specialist who knows that there are subsidies, but does not know how they are distributed and applied.
Or, another example. I studied service and administrative law, but in the field, when we get to the regulatory framework, I did not even know that such documents exist. There are hundreds of rules, ranging from budgetary discipline to nomenclature of cases, and it is completely different.
Where would you invest?
First of all, I would invest in rural infrastructure. As I said, if there are high-quality living conditions in the countryside, then specialists will be drawn there, who will independently start looking for something to do, thereby developing the village. And here, secondly, I would invest in agricultural training - colleges, universities, and the extension system. Probably, I would invest less in certain industries in the form of direct subsidies, and work more to reduce the cost of credit resources. Because it is ineffective to try to substitute direct injections for the market-based decisions of farmers. And to create normal conditions in the countryside so that one can live and work normally there, teach people to make decisions and manage the economy is, in my opinion, the most effective investment.