Skip to main content

Travelling through Asia’s breadbasket

This is the second of a series of blogs from a group of University of Bristol Cabot Institute researchers who are on a remote expedition (funded by BCAI) to find out more about Kazakh agriculture and how farmers are responding to their changing landscape. 

Image credit: Hannah Vineer

Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ played on the car radio as we drove through endless fields of stubble stretching into the horizon in every direction. We were 2 days into our 3-day, 2,345km journey from Astana to our field site, and it was easy to see why Kazakhstan is referred to as Asia’s breadbasket. Spring had finally arrived after an unusually long winter.  Tractors were busy burning, ploughing and planting, disappearing into the distance with each pass of the field.

The vast, flat steppe has provided the opportunity for cereal production on a scale unrivalled by the UK’s comparatively small field enclosures. In 2017, Kazakhstan held wheat stocks of 12MMT (million metric tonnes), making UK’s 1.4MMT seem like a drop in the ocean by comparison. Kazakhstan exports wheat globally and is a key player in global food security. Grain elevators capable of storing more than 100,000 tonnes of grain dominate the skyline of every major town and soon became a familiar feature of the landscape to us.

Image credit: Hannah Vineer

Our journey was punctuated every 6 hours or so by stops at restaurants that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Each one was as unique as the last, their bright colours a reflection of the cheerful nature of the Kazakh people. The popular Tabletkas parked outside reminded me of VW Transporters, and the friendly locals reminded me of my Welsh roots, where strangers greet you on the street.

Image credit: Hannah Vineer

The restaurants served a range of traditional Kazakh comfort food - meat and milk based meals like borscht, always served with bread, of course. Bread, or нан (pronounced naan) is a staple food here and is said to be the most important part of the dinner table. The menu, written in the Cyrillic alphabet, was indecipherable to me at first and I had to pester the Kazakh and Russian members of our team to help me choose a meal each time. Based on my excited reaction when I finally discovered the image recognition feature of my Google Translate app, you would have thought that I had never seen modern technology before. In truth, I was just relieved to not be such a burden on the rest of team!

Image credit: Hannah Vineer
















Before long we were back on the road and as the hours passed I looked forward to getting to camp and getting started with our work. We planned to visit remote villages, thousands of kilometres off the tourist track, to survey farmers about how they cope with weather extremes such as this year’s particularly harsh winter. But for now, we had run out of time and energy. The sun was setting and we needed to find a place to rest for the night. We headed for the dim twinkling lights of Aktobe, passing a tractor working into the night, illuminating a cloud of dust in its wake. When we eventually found a motel with rooms available, I found it difficult to sleep. I couldn’t wait for the final leg of our journey to our wild camp in the Kazakh steppe.

---------------------------------
This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Hannah Rose Vineer.  This expedition has been kindly funded by the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation.  This blog was reposted with permission from the BCAI blog site.

Popular posts from this blog

Bristol Future’s magical places: Sustainability through the eyes of the community

“What is science? Why do we do it?”. I ask these questions to my students a lot, in fact, I spend a lot of time asking myself the same thing.

And of course, as much as philosophy of science has thankfully graced us with a lot of scholars, academics and researchers who have discussed, and even provided answers to these questions, sometimes, when you are buried under piles of papers, staring at your screen for hours and hours on end, it doesn’t feel very science-y, does it?

 As a child I always imagined the scientist constantly surrounded by super cool things like the towers around Nicola Tesla, or Cousteau being surrounded by all those underwater wonders. Reality though, as it often does, may significantly differ from your early life expectations. I should have guessed that Ts and Cs would apply… Because there is nothing magnificent about looking for that one bug in your code that made your entire run plot the earth inside out and upside down, at least not for me.

I know for myself, I…

The new carbon economy - transforming waste into a resource

As part of Green Great Britain Week, supported by BEIS, we are posting a series of blogs throughout the week highlighting what work is going on at the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute for the Environment to help provide up to date climate science, technology and solutions for government and industry.  We will also be highlighting some of the big sustainability actions happening across the University and local community in order to do our part to mitigate the negative effects of global warming. Today our blog will look at 'Technologies of the future: clean growth and innovation'.



On Monday 8 October 2018, the IPCC released a special report which calls upon world governments to enact policies which will limit global warming to 1.5°C compared with pre-industrial levels, failure to do so will drastically increase the probability of ecosystem collapses, extreme weather events and complete melting of Arctic sea ice. Success will require “rapid and far-reaching” actions in…

Will July’s heat become the new normal?

For the past month, Europe has experienced a significant heatwave, with both high temperatures and low levels of rainfall, especially in the North. Over this period, we’ve seen a rise in heat-related deaths in major cities, wildfires in Greece, Spain and Portugal, and a distinct ‘browning’ of the European landscape visible from space.

As we sit sweltering in our offices, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be “are we going to keep experiencing heatwaves like this as the climate changes?” or, to put it another way, “Is this heat the new norm?”

Leo Hickman, Ed Hawkins, and others, have spurred a great deal of social media interest with posts highlighting how climate events that are currently considered ‘extreme’, will at some point be called ‘typical’ as the climate evolves.
In January 2007, the BBC aired a special programme presented by Sir David Attenborough called "Climate Change - Britain Under Threat".

It included this imagined weather forecast for a "typical s…