By Aydar Ashimov
ASTANA -- Kazakhstan's southern provinces have entered the spring planting season, the Ministry of Agriculture announced Monday (April 2).
"The planting area this year will reach more than 21.8 million hectares across the country, the same as last year," the ministry said. "There are plans to plant grain crops on 14.7 million hectares, including 11.4 million hectares of wheat."
"Work begins in late March in the south, later in the north, and will last up to late May in the northern provinces," Anatolii Terentyev, a farmer in Akmola Province, told Caravanserai. "Spring field work is a big job -- preparing the soil, sowing seeds and fighting pests."
Farmers will use 375,000 tonnes of diesel fuel during the spring planting this year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The Agrarian Credit Corporation of Kazakhstan will issue loans to farmers for the planting campaign totaling 60 billion KZT ($187.5 million), according to Kapital.kz, a website focusing on Kazakhstani business.
Last year Kazakhstan had 1,180 registered agricultural co-ops and allocated 25 billion KZT ($78 million) in government funds to support them, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
This year, the number of eventual co-ops is not yet known, so neither is the amount of government funding meant for them.
Co-ops can be advantageous for farmers, said Daulet Aliyev, a wheat farmer in South Kazakhstan Province.
"Banks don't lend to small farms and are reluctant to accept farmland as collateral for loans," he told Caravanserai. "However, banks do work with co-operatives, particularly if the authorities serve as intermediaries during the lending process -- they provide information to borrowers and draw up memoranda [of understanding] with lenders."
It is also advantageous for co-op members to buy fertilisers at wholesale prices and to share farm equipment, he said.
"Participation in a co-op makes it possible to use equipment in spring planting that poor farmers [alone] can't afford, purchase high-quality seeds wholesale and get state subsidies," Aliyev said.
"Farmers understand that [forming co-ops] will allow them to get financing, buy equipment and enter into contracts with large processing enterprises," Karlygash Aralbekova, former director of the Chamber of Entrepreneurs of Zhambyl Province and now director of the provincial tourism administration, told Caravanserai.