Despite Kazakhstan's largely arid conditions, its vast steppes accommodate both livestock and grain production. In the 1950s, the Virgin Lands Program under Soviet Communist party chief Khrushchev brought hundreds of thousands of Russian, Ukrainian, and German settlers to the area. Wheat, cotton, sugar beets, and tobacco are the main crops. The raising of cattle and sheep is also important, and Kazakhstan produces much wool and meat. In addition, in the N Caspian there are rich fishing grounds, famous for their caviar-producing sturgeon, although these have been hurt by overfishing.
The Kazakh Hills in the core of the region have important mineral resources. Coal is mined at Qaraghandy and Ekibastuz, and there are major oil fields in the Emba basin (which includes the important Tengiz fields), in the Mangyshlak Peninsula, and at Karachaganak (near the Russian border NE of Aksai). Kashagan, an oil field S of Atyrau in the NE Caspian Sea, appears to have great potential; it began production in 2013. A pipeline was built in the 1990s to connect the nation's oil fields to the Black Sea. There are also large deposits of natural gas, iron ore, manganese, chrome, lead, zinc, copper, titanium, bauxite, gold, silver, phosphates, sulfur, uranium, and nickel. The Irtysh River hydroelectric stations are a major source of power.
Kazakhstan's industries are located along the margins of the country. Steel, agricultural and mining machinery, electric motors, construction materials, and fertilizers are among the manufactured goods. Temirtau is the iron and steel center. Semey was the Soviet center of space-related industries, and the surrounding region was the site of Soviet nuclear testing; radiation pollution is widespread in the area, which experienced a severe economic downturn following the end of nuclear testing in 1991. The Baikonur (Bayqongyr) Cosmodrome in central Kazakhstan was the Soviet space-operations center and continues to serve Russian space exploration through an agreement between the two nations. The main exports are oil and petroleum products, ferrous metals, chemicals, machinery, grain, wool, meat, and coal. Imports include machinery and equipment, metal products, and foodstuffs. The main trading partners are Russia, China, and Germany.
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