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Animal Market Nerve Centre of Local Economy in Kyrgyzstan

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By Kalinga Seneviratne

AT-BASHY, Kyrgyzstan (IDN) – Separated by mountain ranges from the rest of the country, Naryn province in southeastern Kyrgyzstan lies at an altitude of between 1300 to 3000 meters. Sheep and cattle, raised on the extensive grasslands and alpine pastures, are the mainstay of the economy. While horses play an important role in transport, they also do so in shepherding the herds, especially in summer.

At-Bashy, a picturesque valley of just over 10,800 people at an altitude of about 2000 meters with snow-capped mountains to the east at elevations above 3000 meters, provides a unique venue for a weekly animal market, which attracts hundreds of people every Sunday. It is about 40 km from Naryn city and another 140 km in the other direction from the Chinese border post of Torugart that crosses into the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China.

Started after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, this animal market has become a nerve center of the local economy. “This market plays a crucial role in our community. It is a source of income for many people here,” Nurlan Nogoibaev, a local resident and an undergraduate student at the University of Central Asia in Naryn city told IDN.

“My parents didn’t have a job and their pension wasn’t enough. So they used to buy one sheep, feed it, and sell it later at a higher price,” he adds.

The ancient Silk Routes from China ran through this area and recently with Chinese aid, the road from Torugart Pass to the capital Bishkek that runs through At-Bashy was upgraded with asphalt paving with most of the road a four-lane highway winding through the mountains with trucks and cars speeding at 100 km per hour.

While much is reported in the international media of China building these roads to transport their goods across Central Asia to Europe, the upgraded roads are also helping the local economies on the way.

“Since road upgrading more trucks come here,” Nurlan points out. “Previously we had to take animals and stay a long time to sell. Now people come in trucks and take in bulk.”

The market, which starts as early as 7 in the morning, begins to wind down by about 2.00 in the afternoon. The large football field type area has separate sections for sheep, cattle and horses. If you are just a visitor it is a great spectacle, that is, if you can tolerate the smell of animal dung. It is also interesting to see the reactions of animals when a new owner buys them, especially some sheep resisting to board the new owner’s truck or trailer.

High school teacher Abytolipov Japosz is trying to sell his 6-month old baby cow for 17,000 Soms (USD 245). “Majority are locals who want to buy to add to their cattle,” he says to the inquisitive IDN reporter. “We also sell to people (coming across) from Kazakhstan and to those coming from Bishkek (400 km away) for their restaurants,” he adds.

Horses are the most expensive items here that could fetch anything above 50,000 soms (USD 725). Horses are used both as a transport mode to climb the mountains and shepherding in the region as well as meat for special occasions such as weddings and birth of a child.

Andakulova Gulmeera with the horseBut, one woman, Andakulova Gulmeera, a housekeeper, is trying to sell her 4-year old horse for a special need. She says it is the first time she is selling her horses. “When it’s 4 years the horse is mature and can ride fast,” she says. “I’m selling this for 55,000 (soms) because I’m in financial need. My son has entered university and I need to pay his fees.”

Andakulova says that people here normally don’t sell their horses, and she’s got 3 others along with 3 cows and 60 sheep. But adds that her husband is not a farmer. In the livestock based economy in Naryn region many of the farmers seem fairly wealthy, owning cars and trucks. One local told IDN that many of them own houses in the capital Bishkek but prefer the pasturing lifestyle here. Another added that if they live in the capital they would have no work to do.

Sheep farmer Mavsutor Jakshybek has driven 40 km bringing 7 of his sheep to sell here. “We sell for meat because wool is very cheap here,” he explains. He says he’s sold 5 already, but points to his friend and says “he’s the farmer, I’m the driver”. His farmer partner adds that they buy small sheep from the market, feed them for 2 months and then bring it here to sell. “Whatever we bring, everything is sold,” says Mavsutor.

One may ask how can they make a profit if they have to feed the animals for months before selling them for meat. In Kyrgyzstan, most of the land is owned by the government – perhaps a remnant of the Soviet system – and it is leased to the farmers for pasturing. The animals roam freely in the green hills during spring and summer from April to September. To feed them in the winter, the farmers store stacks of the dried grass and other leaves on their rooftops.

Though it snows heavily in the winter, Nurlan says that more people come to sell their animals in the winter. “All cattle have to be fed in the villages in the winter. So people try to sell them (when winter comes),” he explains. “In the summer they are grazing in the mountains.” Often the farmers have to go on horseback to shepherd them.

The market here is not only selling animals, there are sections selling food, groceries, rice and grains, shoes, even car parts, electrical items. Household items and some children are in sections with their mums trying to sell their chicks and turkey.

The market administration charges 20 soms (USD 0.30) for each animal taken in and the same amount for each animal taken out, if it is sold or not. Other stall holders also have to pay for space.

A farmer with his cattle.

For the locals it is a weekly market where they buy their supplies for the week. “We do have a market on week days but its very small. Majority of the stall holders (on Sunday market) are not locals. They come from far (but) the prices are cheaper than the weekly market,” says Nurlan.

Perhaps the new Silk Routes are keeping the ancient tradition of bringing goods to the community to sell and cheaper too. Centuries ago, they came on camel back, now they bring in trucks, lay out their goods and sell to the community. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 April 2019]

Photos: (Top) A general picture of the market with the trucks bringing animals to the market. (Centre) Andakulova Gulmeera with the horse. (Close to bottom): A farmer with his cattle. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne | IDN-INPS.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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