Farmer to Farmer links shepherds in Kazakhstan with specialists in Maryland

October 09, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Farmers in Kazakhstan, a country in the former Soviet Union, have been raising sheep for hundreds of years.

The problem is that they're still using many of the methods

employed when nomads traveled the area centuries ago, said Paul Tashner, president of TCO International, a Westminster-based enterprise helping Russian and American companies do business together.

"You still see a shepherd with a staff looking after a couple hundred sheep," said Mr. Tashner, who helped bring a Jeep Eagle dealership to Kazakhstan last year. "There are cowboys herding sheep on horses over the fields, which don't have fences.

"There's a lot of room for improvement."

So Mr. Tashner -- who said he wants to give something back to the developing areas he's doing business with -- has helped set up a Farmer to Farmer exchange program between the Kazakh residents and three Maryland sheep specialists.

Carroll County extension agent David Greene, Wicomico County extension agent Susan Schoenian and Eldon Gemmill of Westminster, a former West Virginia shepherd who currently works for the Baltimore County Department of the Environment, will leave for Kazakhstan on Oct. 22 and return Nov. 5.

They will teach two groups of 25 shepherds modern sheep management techniques, ways to improve wool and meat quality, and marketing techniques, Mr. Tashner said.

Farmer to Farmer is a program sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Winrock International, a private foundation based in Arkansas.

"Fifty percent of their livestock is sheep," Mr. Tashner said of Kazakhstan, noting that the country has about 35 million sheep compared with 17 million people.

"One of the things this business is committed to is social projects in the areas where we do business," he said. "I donate 15 to 20 percent of my time and energy to nonprofit activities that help improve the local communities."

The Farmer to Farmer project emerged out of talks with Peace Corps volunteers in Kazakhstan and further discussions with Mr. Gemmill, Mr. Tashner said. Mr. Gemmill then led him to Mr. Greene and Ms. Schoenian, he said.

"David is a renowned sheep expert, well-known throughout the U.S.," Mr. Tashner said.

Mr. Greene -- who raises the animals himself and is often asked to speak at various sheep-breeding association meetings -- is more modest about his abilities.

"I guess maybe I've traveled around enough and been in the sheep industry long enough that I can make a difference," he said. "I like the challenge. I wanted to take the opportunity to try to help out these people.

"When you believe in freedom, freedom of choice and the philosophy of competition, you have a desire to see these people succeed over there."

Although the two three-day seminars -- one in Dzhambul and the other in south Kazakhstan -- will cover modern veterinary care and management, Mr. Greene said he will spend a good bit of time discussing the financial aspects of shepherding in a capitalistic society.

"They're in the situation of all of a sudden being in charge of their own business," said Mr. Greene. "When you've been working for someone else and then, all of a sudden, you're in charge, you have to do things that you might not have been familiar with before."

These farmers may need to learn how to determine the value of their goods, he said.

"They've always been given a certain price for their goods," Mr. Greene said. "Now, they have to compete on the free market. That system is a hard concept to understand."

However, Kazakh shepherds should have ample opportunities to market and export their goods, Mr. Tashner said.

"They are on the northern end of the Muslim Middle East, and people eat a lot of [lamb] in that part of the world," he said. "This is a way for them to make a lot of money and pump hard currency into their local economy."

Mr. Greene said group members would also like to have a festival, similar to county agricultural fairs, and set up two demonstration farms -- one in each region -- during the trip.

"This can be an on-going teaching technique," he said, noting that the county extension agency and the agriculture department in Kazakhstan have electronic mail capabilities.

"We could be in contact on a daily basis," he said.

Once they return, Mr. Greene and Ms. Schoenian will begin setting up another program that would bring the Kazakh farmers to Maryland next spring, Mr. Tashner said.

"We're looking at this on a long-term basis," he said. "There will be follow-up training and interaction long after they leave."

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