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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

4 Uzbek Scholars Study Soapmaking in Utah

APRajobou Toshpulot smelling a Spirit Goat scented soap in Nibley, Utah.
LOGAN, Utah -- It's a long way from Uzbekistan to Utah. But even 19 hours in flight did not wilt the enthusiasm of four Uzbek scholars to observe how American farmers make the most of their land and livestock.

"During two days, already we got a lot of interesting and important ideas for rangeland improvement and ideas for secondary production, like soap," Bakhtiyor Mardonov, the leader of rangeland ecology and management at the Academy of Science in Uzbekistan, said last week.

Douglas Johnson, a U.S. Department of Agriculture plant physiologist, is serving as tour guide of the group. For two weeks they are visiting sites from Yellowstone National Park to the national Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho, on a quest to learn agriculture diversification, rangeland management and sustainable agriculture.

Agriculture accounts for nearly 40 percent of Uzbekistan's gross domestic product, but intensive production of cotton and grain and overuse of chemicals has depleted water supplies and stripped the soil.

Utah farmer Reed Funk, professor emeritus at Rutgers University, witnessed the depressed state of agriculture during a trip to Uzbekistan several years ago. He paid $17,000 to bring the four scholars to Utah's Cache Valley and joined them last Wednesday on a rangeland visit with Natural Resources Conservation Service officials. "They're looking to make friends and improve their economy," Funk said.

Wednesday morning was a lesson in agricultural diversification: utilizing Uzbekistan's plentiful goat or sheep milk to tap into niche markets like homemade luxury soap.

Though many Uzbeks raise goats or sheep, Mardonov said soapmaking was an untapped opportunity.

"It could be one way to get more benefits and improve production, provide additional income," he said.

After the group toured a Nibley goat dairy, soapmaker Becky Yeager demonstrated each step of producing a batch of Oatmeal & Honey Spirit Goat Soap. She uses ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil but also discussed alternatives more plentiful in Uzbekistan, primarily cottonseed, safflower and sesame oils, as well as animal fats. "Those are cheap, and they can make a great bar of soap," she said.

But the essential ingredient is goat milk, of which the vitamins, proteins and alphahydroxy content make it very "trendy" among luxury skin care products. "Especially in the European market, and the Japanese people are going nuts over it," Yeager said.

The Uzbeks smiled as their unofficial secretary busily jotted how-to notes. "It's very important to see directly how it should be done," Mardonov said. "We now will go to farms in our country and see how to use what we have learned here."