The TALCO Aluminum factory is an immense source of national pride, and represents a huge chunk of the Tajik economy, but the exact – or even ballpark numbers are top secret. The plant director told me, when I asked, that “only two people in the country know how much profit the Tajik government makes off the aluminum sales.” The logistics director of our program, a Tajik named Khurshed, whispered to me afterwards: “if you give them $20 you’ll be the third.”
Built in the 1970s by the USSR, it’s the 3rd largest of its kind in the world. It’s absolutely enormous, and reminded us of a Terminator series movie set. No other tourists – and few Tajiks outside of the government – get to see inside it, so we were quite excited.
It was a bit of a thrill. An OSHA representative would have probably had a heart attack. But it was actually much safer and well-run than I expected.
Aluminum is known as solidified electricity for a reason – the TALCO plant uses 40% of the country’s electricity and has it’s own giant transformer station nearby.
We also got the opportunity to see the much less industrialized side of Tajikistan’s economy – including the production of flaxseed oil. Here it’s the standard cooking oil, a key ingredient in Osh Pilau – not the $10 a bottle health food it is in the U.S.!
Some estimate that up to half of Tajikistan’s economy actually comes from remittances from workers abroad to their families back home, particularly from Russia. Another huge chunk is suspected to come from narcotrafficking from Afghanistan…and the bear man.