Kirghiz forestry specialists like to tell the following story. At the Potsdam Conference, US President Harry S. Truman addressed Iosif Stalin with an unexpected proposition: the US is ready to write off a part of the USSR’s debt if the USSR leases Kirghiz walnut forests to the US for 50 years. Stalin is said to have been a bit perplexed: he simply did not know about the existence of such forests in Kirghizia. Though, after he studied a detailed letter prepared by specialists, he declined the proposition. “There are such forests nowhere but in Kirghizia, - he said to Truman. – They are our national property. We are ready to pay any other price, but not that one.”
It is hard to say what the experts wrote in their letter, though today’s specialists could say much about the use of walnuts. Nut oil, vitamin mixtures, halvah, colouring matters for foodstuffs produced from walnuts. Moreover, the wood is very valuable, which is used to produce works of art, furniture, chess and other things. However, more valuable is nut burl: huge tumours on the trunks. The main thing is that walnut forests create special climate, a very healthy atmosphere which is a natural protection against different diseases, against mudflows, landslides, and floods. In the Soviet Union, these forests were protected by the state. However, even at that time, this natural gift was not effectively used. For what is happening now with the walnut forests, the right word is tragedy. The chemical protection of the trees has been practically stopped. Therefore, numerous insects annihilate hectares of the forests.
However, human beings are even more serious enemies of nature. Thousands of Kirghiz citizens live on the territory of the Arlslan-Bob forest reserve. Many of them work in forestry, while the rest simply survive thanks to the walnut. They gather fruits, burls, and chop trees.
This year, the Kirghiz government finally decided to solve this problem: it took a special decision to protect the forests and created a forest institute. However, the government mainly relies on foreign investors who are ready to invest money in different walnut projects. For example, Switzerland is now financing already 16 such projects, whose main imperfection is that they are aimed at the export of this unique nut that the USSR refused to sell even in the hardest years of its history.
Yuri Razgulaev PRAVDA.ru Bishkek Kirghizia
Translated by Vera Solovieva
Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/main/2002/02/05/36590.html