An Apple Crisis in Kazakhstan

Development threatens the wild precursors of the ubiquitous fruit
Photograph by John Wendle

The plant researcher sporting two gold teeth points out the window of his Soviet-era SUV and shouts, “See! It’s like we told you!” Nursagim Ashikbayev, 76, springs out of the car and walks toward a gash torn by unknown diggers into an apple orchard along a steep hillside. “Climate change, fire, wind, insects, and livestock are all degrading the wild apple forests,” says Nurzhan Mukhamadiyev, Ashikbayev’s colleague at Kazakhstan’s Institute for the Conservation and Protection of Plants. “But one of the biggest problems is, people are building big summer houses here, then they buy dump trucks full of topsoil illegally taken from the surrounding mountains to fill in their gardens.”

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