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Republic of Kazakhstan Religions: Islam, Christianity
Agriculture in Kazakhstan remains
a small scale sector of Kazakhstan's economy.
Agriculture's contribution to the GDP is under
10% - it was recorded as 6.7%, and as occupying
only 20% of labor. At the same time, more than
70% of its land is occupied in crops and animal
husbandry. Compared to North America, a
relatively small percentage of land is used for
crops, with the percentage being higher in the
north of the country. 70% of the agricultural
land is permanent pastureland.
Kazakhstan's largest crop is wheat, which it
exports. It ranks as the sixth largest wheat
producer in the world. Minor crops include
barley, cotton, sugar beets, sunflowers, flax,
and rice. Agricultural lands in Kazakhstan were
depleted of their nutrients during the Virgin
Lands Campaign during the Soviet era. This
continues to impact production today. Kazakh
wine is produced in the mountains east of Almaty.
In 2009 the country had achieved record grain
harvests of 21mn tonnes, exceeding the previous
record of 20.1mn tonnes recorded in 2007.
Animals raised in Kazakhstan include chickens,
sheep, pigs, horses and goats (in descending
order of numbers). Meat production in tons was
highest in cows, pork, mutton(meat), chicken,
and "other meat." Wool, cow milk, and eggs are
the other major animal products of the country.
A huge country covering a territory equivalent to the whole of Western Europe, Kazakhstan has vast mineral resources and enormous economic potential.
The varied landscape stretches from the mountainous, heavily populated regions of the east to the sparsely populated, energy-rich lowlands in the west, and from the industrialised north, with its Siberian climate and terrain, through the arid, empty steppes of the centre, to the fertile south.
Ethnically, the country is as diverse, with the Kazakhs making up over half the population, the Russians comprising just over a quarter, and smaller minorities of Ukrainians, Germans, Chechens, Kurds, Koreans and Central Asian ethnic groups accounting for the rest.
These groups generally live in harmony, though ethnic Russians resent the lack of dual citizenship and having to pass a Kazakh language test in order to work for government or state bodies. Since independence, many ethnic Russians emigrated to Russia.
Astana: Oil money is driving the new capital's development
The dominant religion, Islam, which was suppressed under Communist rule, has enjoyed something of a revival since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Since independence, there has been major foreign investment in the Caspian oil sector. Oil development has brought rapid economic growth, although expansion slowed in 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis.
An oil pipeline linking the Tengiz oil field in western Kazakhstan to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk opened in 2001. In 2008, Kazakhstan began pumping some oil exports through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, as part of a drive to lessen its dependence on Russia as a transit country. A pipeline to China was opened in late 2005, with work on another starting in 2008.
Nevertheless, poverty is still widespread and Kazakhstan continues to face major economic challenges, particularly with unemployment and inflation. At the same time, a small minority of Kazakhs grew very rich after independence through privatization and other business deals which opposition politician alleged to have been corrupt.
The people of Kazakhstan also have to live with the aftermath of Soviet-era nuclear testing and toxic waste dumping, as well as with increasing drug addiction and a growing incidence of HIV/Aids. Inefficient irrigation projects have led to severe shrinkage of the heavily polluted Aral Sea.
Elections in December 2005 returned Nursultan Nazarbayev for a further seven-year term with more than 90% of the votes.
The opposition protested that the ballot had been rigged and OSCE observers declared it to have been seriously flawed.
President Nazarbayev: Kazakhstan's leader for more than two decades
Mr Nazarbayev said the election had been fair and showed that people wanted evolution, not revolution.
His grip on power was strengthened even further when parliament voted in 2007 to allow him to stay in office for an unlimited number of terms.
Born in 1940, Mr Nazarbayev came to power in 1989 as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and was elected president the following year. He was re-elected after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
His supporters say he preserved inter-ethnic accord and stability during the reform years.
Mr Nazarbayev has concentrated extensive powers in his own hands and is accused by the opposition of suppressing dissent. Although he says he advocates democracy as a long-term goal, he warns that stability could be at risk if change is too swift.
A referendum in 1995 extended his term of office and in 1999 he was again elected president in elections from which his main rival was barred from standing on a technicality.
When Mr Nazarbayev does step down, he will have a permanent seat on the defence council and a role as head of the people's assembly, which unites members from different ethnic groups, according to the law approved in the 2007 referendum.
The president merged his Otan party with his daughter Dariga's party, Asar, in July 2006. The move created a vast ruling coalition and was seen as consolidating the president's power. Otan was subsequently renamed Nur-Otan in honour of Mr Nazarbayev.
Press freedom is enshrined in the constitution, but monitors say the privately-owned and opposition media are subject to harassment and censorship.
In 2007 media rights body Reporters Without Borders said pressure on the media included prosecutions for "defaming" the president, the closure of opposition newspapers and physical attacks on journalists.
Insulting the president and officials is a criminal offence; the private life, health and financial affairs of the president are classified as state secrets.
The government controls the printing presses and most radio and TV transmission facilities. It operates the country's national radio and TV networks.
The president's close associates, including his eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, and son-in-law, have benefitted from the privatisation of the former state media. Dariga heads the influential Khabar Agency which runs several TV channels.
The couple also controls the radio stations Europa Plus, Russkoye Radio, Hit FM and Radio Karavan, along with the newspapers Karavan and Novoye Pokolenie.
There were 1.4 million internet users by March 2008 (ITU).