Tomsk – region full of forest treasures

­The local economy in the Tomsk region in western Siberia has been linked with oil and gas for quite some time, but it has a new growing and developing sector – the forest.

It involves the gathering and the processing of wild growing natural products such as berries, mushrooms and pine nuts.

“One of our forests' excellent products is pine cones. They are very good for one’s health and people enjoy collecting them in a forest. Families come with children. Young people do it a lot too, especially now that there is a shortage of jobs in the area. You can collect for your own consumption or you can sell them at a good price. There are people who live off this business,” Vasily Titov from administration of Tomsk region told RT.

It is estimated that picking and processing of wild-growing stuff provides earnings for about 100,000 to 150,000 local inhabitants.

Those who gather pine cones can sell them to companies for processing.Cones are gathered at special stations where people bring them. The companies also have teams that gather these cones.

"In terms of revenue, we can even be compared to the oil industry. There is huge potential here which needs to be realized,” Andrey Lapay, director of the local cedar plant, said.

In the summer of 2002, pickers of wild-growing produce were paid a total of 250 million rubles. And it is not uncommon that a family earns between 100,000 and 400,000 rubles a season.

Almost 90 per cent of what is picked is processed.

“Our company processes wild berries into jams. We store frozen berries in industrial fridge facilities and process them into different kinds of jams,” said Pavel Nuzhdov, chief technologist for the Sava company.

Andrey Stukanov from the Tomsk Foreign Relations Committee stressed that “only 4 per cent of what grows is actually collected – so there is a vast area for industry to develop.”

However, he added “We cannot speak about millions of dollars – it will never be the primary industry, but it may be a very substantial part of industry.”

The forest rangers are patrolling the forest in the region. They spend a month at a time in the thick of the forest and to survive, hunting for food is part of their daily routine.

“The fauna here is quite diverse. One can spot elk, bears, lynxes and sables. In winter, you can hunt moose by chasing them on skis. As for bears, they can only be hunted in their dens in winter,” Igor Puzanov, forest ranger, says.

“Common urban people are just not suited to all this. It takes knowing animals' behavior and being a good shooter to be a successful hunter,” Puzanov added.