Veggies

fresh-veggies-day1-e1433419677310-808x380According to one calendar website, today is Fresh Veggies Day … and tomorrow Eat your Vegetables Day.

There are virtually no additional details about where these days originated … who thought of them and why … apart from the suggestion that they were celebrated in the early summer “when the tastiest new-season vegetables start to become plentiful” and that “nutritionists agree that when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables, most of us just aren’t getting enough.”

There may be some truth in that thanks to people of the like of Nicolas Appert and Clarence Birdseye who did much to develop and popularize modern methods of food preservation such as Canning and Freezing … (surpassing if not actually replacing older techniques such as salting, smoking, bottling and drying.)

Although the Kyrgyz, themselves, are basically carniovores, (they seem to prefer meat – which may reflect the fact that were traditionally pastoral nomads rather than a settled agrarian peopple), … vegetables are still an important part of the diet here in Kyrgyzstan.

One report (back in 2004), quoted consumption per capita per annum to be 142kg, including 28kg of tomatoes (which are actually, technically, a fruit), 24 kg each of carrots and radishes, 21kg of cabbage, 20kg of onion and 10 kg of cucumbers.

Those statistics immediately brought a question  to mind … what did the other 5% consist of?  Although I can understand why Peas, Beans, Beetroot, Sweetcorn weren’t listed … I couldn’t help but wonder, for example, where were the Potatoes?, the Peppers?, the Garlic? …

The supply of vegetables is extremely seasonal with the harvest being heavily dependent upon the weather, (Kyrgyzstan having a sharply Continental climate – with hot dry summers and cold wet winters and considerable local variations – depending on altitude, aspect and the lie of the mountain ranges).

Only about 7% of Kyrgyzstan’s land is arable, mainly in the valleys, (Chui, Talas and the Issyk-Kul basin in the North and the Fergana Valley in the south).  Rainfall is not really adequate for the production of most crops without artificial irrigation … making water resources one of the most valuable natural assets of the country … and less than half of this arable land is under irrigation.

Furthermore, the diversity of vegetables grown in the country is rather limited and agriculture in the country still suffers from lack of modern equipment, poor financing, and poor infrastructure.

In the days of the Soviet Union, fruit and vegetable production played an important role in the economy, but following the collapse of the Union, production decreased significantly.

Almost all of vegetables are produced on small peasant private farms – basically, as I understand it, there are no large collective enterprises involved in vegetable production.  These often specialize in certain crops.

The average vegetable yield is relatively low , especially when compared to that obtained in other temperate countries, possibly due to factors like the lack of fertilizers …

The question of fertilizers has been somewhat controversial … much pride is placed on the ekologiskiy chiti (ecological purity) of the produce … and, recently, there was a scandal of fertilizers provided by a donor agency which were banned in Russia and Kazakhstan – two of Kyrgyzstan’s prime export markets.

On the other hand, Kyrgyz potatoes were banned from the Kazakh market due to a pest being discovered in some consignments.

Now there are several moves to promote organic produce … both to make the ekologiskiy chisti nature of the produce, and also because it is thought that it will attract a premium price for the farmers.

… the lack of modern technologies, …

in particular, there is some attention being given to the potential use of greenhouses.  Although there has always been some crops grown under glass … most of the are grown in the open fields.

… and poor quality seed.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, those state run farms that produced vegetable seed could do so any more on a commercial basis – only for their own use or for barter – and their quality have consequently suffered … so farmers use concentrated seeding in order to compensate for low germination rates. Although some foreign varieties are available …  private farmers lack the funds required to purchase them.

Having said all of that, production has improved since the turn of the century and is now, actually, in excess of the recommended levels for healthy consumption and the extra can be processed and exported.

Until recently customs barriers and transit dues provided a serious barrier for the export of Kyrgyz produce especially into Russian and via Kazakhstan; however, it is hoped that by joining the Eurasian Economic Community … such problems will be alleviated.

Likewise, the cost of fresh vegetables in Winter is at a premium – with transport costs.

 

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