- Shruti Sasidharan
With an average annual production of processing tomatoes of about 95,000 tonnes over the last six years, the Kazakh industry devotes about 11% of its total fresh production (906,000 mT) to processing and covers only around 36% of its annual needs of tomato products, estimated at 265,000 mT.
Agriculture plays an important role in Central Asia’s largest grain producing economy; Kazakhstan. With its vast land resources, the country is well suited to extensive crop and livestock production. In 2021, the agricultural sector accounted for approximately 5.1% of Kazakhstan’s economic production or USD 8.4 billion in value.
It is estimated that around 45% of the country’s population lives in rural areas, and incomes of almost 30% of the economically active population are generated by employment in the agricultural sector. According to the Statistics Committee of the Ministry of National Economy, 75% of the country’s territory is suitable for agricultural production, but only about 30% of the land is currently under agricultural production. With an average annual growth rate of 6% between 2001 and 2011, Kazakhstan's agriculture industry has experienced strong economic growth.
Tomatoes are an important horticultural crop in Kazakhstan. In 2021, the country produced 942,577 mT of fresh tomatoes, representing a 1% rise over the previous year. In the same year, total acreage increased by only 3%, as the country has had to face one of the most severe droughts that affected agricultural productivity, among others. According to data provided by the Global Drought Observatory (GDO), severe drought and arid conditions were recorded in the South Kazakhstan regions beginning in June 2021. As a result, the average field output fell marginally to 30 mT/ha. It is estimated that processing tomatoes accounted for approximately 9% of fresh tomato production, indicating that the processing industry remains largely underdeveloped. In 2022, the production of both fresh and processing tomato crops is projected to grow by 1% and 6%, respectively.
Table 1 Tomato Production in Kazakhstan, 2017-2022
The growth in Kazakhstan’s total annual tomato yield may be attributed to the extensive development of tomato production through the expansion of open planting and greenhouse areas rather than the implementation of new methods and techniques increasing the production efficiency of existing grounds.
Source: Official figures from the Kazakhstan Statistical Agency processed by WPTC
Table 2 Annual Production, Indoor vs Outdoor in 2021
The main tomato producing region is Turkestan (34% in 2021) located in South Kazakhstan, followed by Almaty (22%), Zhambyl (15%), East-Kazakhstan (5%) and North Kazakhstan (5%). South Kazakhstan is traditionally the country’s fresh tomato growing area, among other horticultural crops, where the combination of a warm, fertile soil and special irrigation system aids effective plant growing development and, correspondingly, high yield. The region also represents a large number of greenhouses, fruit and vegetable processors as well as large chain traders (wholesalers and retailers).
Source: Kazakhstan Statistical Agency
Fig 1 The Top 5 Tomato Producing Provinces in 2021
Geographically and climatically, Kazakhstan is extremely diverse, ranging from steppe in the north to semiarid and desert regions in the centre to mountains and foothills in the south and southeast. North and south have summer average temperatures of 20°C and 30°C, respectively. The average winter temperature is 18°C in the north and 3°C in the south, but the north can experience 40°C temperatures. In the desert, precipitation ranges from 100 to 200 millimetres; in steppe regions, it ranges from 200 to 500 millimetres; and in the south, it ranges from 500 to 1,600 millimetres.
Tomatoes are harvested from July to September every year, depending on the growing locations for the crop and the biological traits of the crop kinds. The growing season lasts between 70 and 120 days, with Spring being the most productive. The risks associated with cultivating tomatoes are increased by short growth seasons, hot, dry summers, long, cold winters, and strong winds.
Given that tomatoes are subject to price fluctuations, the average price for processed tomatoes (tomato paste) in 2021 was around USD 1,500/mT during the off-season, while the price for fresh tomatoes was roughly USD 426–USD 533/mT. The top tomato processor in Almaty, Tsin Kaz, reports that a kilogram of processed tomatoes can be purchased for USD 150–USD 190/mT in the summer while prices can go above USD 640-USD 750/mT during the off-season.
In order to sustain year-round production, and to improve the consistency in production and increase yields per acre, the country has been promoting the cultivation of greenhouse tomatoes. Since 2003, Kazakhstan has been witnessing a positive trend in the development, construction, and reconstruction of greenhouses. However, only in the last ten years has the greenhouse industry fully developed. From only 108 greenhouses with a total area of 59 hectares in 2008 today, the total greenhouse area is more than 1,300 hectares. One of the most important factors in the intensification of greenhouse tomato production is the introduction of new high-yielding hybrids that are disease resistant. According to statistics, the largest areas of greenhouses are concentrated on family farms, followed by private farms and various agricultural enterprises.
The Southern provinces of Turkestan, Almaty and Aktobe, produced about 84% of protected ground (greenhouse) tomatoes in 2021.
Incorporated in 2016, TOO BRB APK with its brand name NACAgro, is the largest greenhouse in Kazakhstan that uses advanced technologies for the production of vegetables without soil. The complex is located on a land plot of 17 hectares, of which 12 hectares are used directly for growing vegetables. Today NACAgro contributes to the saturation of the market of the city of Almaty by reducing its dependence on imported products, mainly tomatoes and cucumbers. The production capacity is more than 7 thousand tons of vegetables per year; with daily production volumes crossing 20 tons of vegetables. The average yield of the greenhouse complex is 60-65 kg compared to 5-10 kg per 1 m2 obtained by growing on open ground.
With the assistance of private investors and the Kazagrofinance JSC, NACAgro was implemented for an amount of 7.8 billion tenge (USD 16 million). NACAgro tomatoes are pollinated using imported Dutch bumblebees, which supposedly increase the yield by 10-30% depending on the quantity, size and mass of the vegetable crops. Tomatoes are harvested mainly in Spring (April-May) and Autumn (November-December). High-tech greenhouses with additional lighting have an all year round harvesting. Presently, NACAgro employs 180 persons. The company has a second branch in Alatau district.
Dr. Indira Belgitayeva, Chief Agronomist at BRB APK LLP, who has more than twenty years of experience working in Kazakhstan’s greenhouse sector notes that the production of closed ground vegetables has been actively financed and subsidized by the government for the past fifteen years in order to facilitate the consumption of fresh tomatoes even off-season. As a result, the production of fresh tomatoes is expected to rise year on year. However, the increase in quarantine pests as well the emergence of new viruses are one of the main problems faced by tomato cultivators. According to Dr. Belgitayeva, processed tomatoes take up less space on the table of Kazakh citizens in large cities as the prices for fresh tomatoes are affordable. She notes that, in addition, a survey is needed to have more accurate data.
Hybrid varieties in the image (left to right): Merlice, Olmeca, Tomimaro Mucho and Torero
At NACAgro, apart from crop cultivation, approximately 1,000 litres of second-quality tomatoes are processed on a weekly basis, in a liquid form for immediate consumption and to reduce crop wastage. These finished tomato products (boiled & freshly juiced) along with other fresh vegetable crops are sold at the company’s own Agro shop adjoining the facility.
Apart from NACAgro, there are more than five relevant greenhouses active in the region including, Greenhouse Kazakhstan, Alatau Greenland, The World Green Company, Aktobe Greenery and Green Technology LLP, etc.
The National Agrarian Science and Educational Center (NASEC) asserts that rapid infestation of Tuta absoluta Povolny is the present issue with tomato production, particularly in protected ground conditions. Employees of the Institute examined tomato plantations in both open and closed ground, and they discovered that the pest was common in the Turkestan, Zhambyl, Aktobe, and, more recently, in the Almaty regions of the country. In light of the aforementioned, the institute's leadership assigned the laboratory of beneficial arthropods the responsibility of developing a set of preliminary preventive measures against Tuta absoluta (Povolny, 1994).
Erkin Satenbayev, Head of the Science Department, at NASEC mentioned that at the Kazakh Research Institute of Horticulture research work is being carried out to create highly productive and competitive domestic processing tomato varieties (whole-fruit canning, tomato paste and tomato products) that are suitable for cultivation in open as well as protected ground.
Founded in 1934, the Kazakh Research Institute of Horticulture is a subsidiary of NASEC. The institute provides scientific support to the needs of the market by developing new competitive varieties and hybrids of agricultural crops and their cultivation techniques for achieving sustainable development.
According to Erkin, the quality of the raw materials, which defines the key characteristics of the finished product and its price, is a major factor in the successful resolution of processing problems. Special tomato cultivars are required for the production of some types of canned food, which are differentiated by high nutritional and technological standards (dry matter content, vitamins, shape, size, etc.). Ayan, Leader, Rassvet, Samaladai, and Umit are indigenous tomato cultivars that can be processed to make all kinds of tomato-based products. For whole-fruit canning, tomato varieties Narttai, Radiant, Vostorg are used. When evaluating suitability for the production of tomato juice, the varieties Surprise, Venera, Mechta obtained top grades. Furthermore, due to the lack of processing plants, the production of processing tomatoes is extremely low in the country. However, by increasing acreage and productivity, the Kazakh tomato processing industry can be fully-developed in order to meet the demands of the domestic and export markets.
The second part of this dossier will be released shortly