Over the last few years, Astana has tried to diversify Kazakhstan’s economy away from the extractive industries. Fearful of over-relying on a sole export, officials have promoted tourism, textiles, construction materials and food processing. It’s not just about oil and gas anymore, at least on paper.
So it’s fortunate that the fertile meadows around the banks of the River Ural (Zhayyk in Kazakh) in West Kazakhstan Region provide ideal growing conditions for another commodity valued abroad, a recent television report noted.
Licorice production has a long tradition in the region, stretching back to the days when Scythian nomads used to sell the processed root as medicine to the ancient Greeks. As the ancients knew, licorice is not only about the flavor: It is widely recognized to treat a range of ailments from the common cold to lung disease.
In Uralsk, the Licorice Kazakhstan Company began to revive this antique industry in 2006, opening its own facility to produce licorice root extract early this year. All the company's production is currently exported to Russia and China, where it is used to flavor candy, tobacco and perfume. The plant hopes to ramp up to 800 metric tons of the sticky black extract per year.
With such a wide range of uses, then, could Kazakhstan be set for another black gold rush?