Chair: Hedwig Waters (University of Leiden, the Netherlands)

Stephanie Ziehaus (Palacký University in Olomouc)

Soybeans in transfer. Russian imperial expansion and the transfer of knowledge and seeds between Austria, Manchuria and the Amur region

Promotion of agriculture is a universally used tool of colonization, shared among all settler colonial societies expanding into steppes and grasslands. The cultivation of “wastelands” goes hand in hand with the settlement of Russian peasants and the expansion of the Russian Empire. The Amur region presents a unique case study as this process of settlement and colonization was accompanied by the transfer of knowledge in soybean cultivation from Northern Manchuria to Russian agriculturalists, but also by the transfer of
cultured soybean seeds from the World Exhibition in Vienna 1873 to the Russian Empire experimental soy fields in Podolie (Ukraine) and the Amur region. This movement of seeds demonstrates the transfer of knowledge in imperial expansion, showcasing how the Empire expanded not only territorially, but also via scientific knowledge. The material transfer of seeds is accompanied by the cultural transfer of knowledge and practices connected to the cultivation of soybean and takes part in the overall process of the Russian Empire-Building.

See Presentation here:

Olaf Guenther (University of Leipzig, Institute of Anthropology)

Alfalfa and Licorice – entagled stories from the Aral Sea

The following story has been passed down from the Aral Sea region: Around 1905 or 1906, the fodder plant alfalfa was introduced from Russia in the Amu-darya Delta, for which the region around Čimbaj offered ideal conditions. Initially, the extraction of alfalfa seeds only covered the needs of the local population, but soon more and more surpluses were produced.
Lucerne or alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is an erect-growing, herbaceous and perennial plant of the legume family (Fabaceae, Leguminosae). It is cultivated worldwide on a large scale as a fodder crop for animals. It is estimated that it was cultivated by humans thousands of years ago, probably in the arid regions of Central Asia, where it still occurs wild today. Because of its good
fodder value, it was quickly spread by humans to other countries, and was already known to the ancient Persians and Egyptians. Like most species of legumes, alfalfa lives in symbiosis with root nodule bacteria. With the help of these microorganisms, the alfalfa roots can bind the nitrogen that is so important for plants not only from the soil but also from the air, which gives it the advantage that it can also thrive in nutrient-poor soils.
With increasing demand, the need for industrialisation of lucerne processing arose around 1910–1912. Thus, a few farms were set up in Čimbaj, each employing around ten workers. When the season arrived, a large number of transport boats (qajyq) were moored on the banks of the Kegejli Canal. The goods were brought by water to Xoğejli and from there shipped by river to the Aral Sea. It was then transported by the Trans-Siberian Railway to Europe or Vladivostok, from where the alfalfa was also exported to the USA. Similar processesare now happening around Licorice in the Aral Sea Region.

Dedovsky, Daniel (Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic)

Contemporary commercial utilization of the traditional medicaments in the area of Southern Siberia (Republic of Altai) and its ecological impacts

My research consists of collecting of samples of traditional medicaments from local healers, pharmacy shops and street markets. Interviews with local healers and vendors, but also with farmers were held to detect recent changes in gaining sources, but also transformations of ways of preparation of the medicaments and its traditional medication. Surveying of the booming farming and
growing of up to now wild animals and plants for medical reasons has shown an increasing tendency in the Post-Soviet period.
The goal of my research is to perform an analysis of commercially produced drugs based in local tradition in our Laboratory in Olomouc to identify its components and to verify the declared presence of ingredients. Evaluation of the real healing power of these drugs should follow and also detecting the amount of the threatened or even endangered species used in the commercial sphere of traditional medicine. A survey of the nature of export of these articles to China has been made to detect the level of ecological threat of the Chinese interest in Siberian healing. To this phenomenon is directly connected a development of animal
husbandry and arable farming of healing plants; it could serve as a possible solution of the ecological problem, but it also introduces new problems and dangers.

Holzlehner, Tobias (Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany)

Wild Rhizome: Zhen ́shen ́ (panax ginseng), forest landscapes and foraging at the margins of Chinese capitalism
Among the three mainly commercially used ginseng types – Korean ginseng (P. ginseng), Chinese ginseng (P. notoginseng), and American ginseng (P. quin-quefolius) – the wild variety of zhen ́shen ́ (panax ginseng) from Russia ́s Primore region is considered to be of the highest quality and potency. The wild plant – native to northeastern China, Korea, and the Russian Far East – with its unique
habitat requirements, is a rare and difficult to collect, yet highly prized commodity. Culturally driven demand for wild ginseng in China has produced far-ranging trading and foraging economies that connect the remote forest and mountain landscapes through local collectors/hunters and Chinese traders with the affluent consumers in China. Notions of wild/wilderness are thereby constituent to the root ́s commodified value (specifically in relation to farmed ginseng): Sourced in the ‘wild’ market of native foraging and cross-border smuggling and at the same time rooted in the ‘wild’ potency ascribed to this specific variety of ginseng in the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The paper follows the complex and rhizomic meshwork of plant, ecology, cosmology, pharmacology, trade, and consumption from the shaded forest groves of the remote Sikhote-Alin mountain range to the medicinal
stores and “ginseng boutiques” in China (and eventually the bloodstreams of patients). True to its rhizomic character, the valuable root and its intricate relationship with humans (re-) appears in different times and locations. Wild ginseng landscapes, remote forests marked by frictions of distance and terrain, have through time been places at the edge of markets, from the organized
extraction in the Primore region during the 19th century to contemporary foragers of the Appalachian Mountains in the 21st century, each supplying a lucrative Chinese and increasingly global market. Tracing these configurations reveals not only an intricate cross-border foraging and trading network, but furthermore allows insights into the symbolic and historic dimensions of an
exquisite commodity at the edge of Empire, where the co-evolvement of a human-plant interaction is mediated (medicated?) by chemical compounds and notions of wildness. People make plants, plants make people; the socio-economic life of the anthropomorphic ginseng rhizome attests to that.

Victoria Namzhilova & Irina Van, Subad Dashieva (Baikal Institute for Nature Management & Institute for Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies & Ulan-Ude)

Indigenous plants of the Russian Transbaikalia: Enhancing biopharmaceutical power of China

This paper examines the phenomenon of predatory collection of roots of a wild plant Sapozhnikovia (Saposhnikovia divaricate) on the territory of Transbaikalia and the Republic of Buryatia in Russia. The illegal collection of the roots began quite suddenly few years expanding over new territories year by year and enlarging number of people involved. A key factor in the large-scale
harvesting of the Saposhnikovia was the rising supply demand of medicinal raw materials for Chinese pharmaceutical industry and traditional Chinese medicine. Though the plant is listed in the Red List of Threatened Plants of the TransBaikal region, it is still illegally exported abroad. According to our findings, the roots are illegally transported using three routes: through the nearest
border crossing points with China in Zabaikalsk/Manzhouli, through the seaport of Vladivostok, and also through Kazakhstan.
The scale of collection causes a wide public resonance because of the damaging environmental effects and soil erosion. On the other hand, collection of Saposhnikovia became often the main source of income for local people, who used to live from the nature.
We link the recent spread of Saposhnikovia collection fever over Siberia with situation in Mongolia, where the authorities has tightened environmental legislation thus making Saposhnikovia collection almost impossible. The Saposhnikovia roots have analgesic, antipyretic effect, and are valued for its diaphoretic and expectorant medical effects. According to the latest data, the
roots of the plant are one of the main components of the drugs used to combat COVID-19 in China. There is a high interest in introduction of Saposhnikovia into domestic medicine and of its cultivation. Considering government strategies for the development of preventive medicine, the cultivation of this medicinal herbs has good prospects.


Namsaraeva, Sayana (MIASU, University of Cambridge)

Siberian tea for Vladimir Putin and moral economies of the Russia-China Borderlands

When Russian president Vladimir Putin has recently declared that he is drinking tea made only with wild herbs collected in Siberia, public attention became much preoccupied with magical formulas of the herbal assemblage – various leaves, mashrooms, roots, berries, and flower heads of Siberian wild plants – that empowers a body of the sovereign with strength, energy and protect him
from the Covid infectious viruses. By taking a close look to a ‘social life’ of one of these ingredients, namely Sapozhnikovia divaricate (also known as fangfeng- shu 防风属 – a medical herb widely used in Asian traditional medicine), the presentation will follow all transformations of this botanical from the local to the global, and the ways how it became a highly demanded immune-related raw material in Chinese and international pharmacology industry. Paraphrasing ‘Why plants are also good to think with ?”, I will use the fangfeng as an example to demonstrate growing economic and environmental disparaties between China and Russia borderlands, and moral dilemmas that local population in Eastern Siberia faces, when the home landscape became treated as a resource deposit of a neighboring country.