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Chechens On The Hunt For Wild Garlic

For the people of Chechnya, wild garlic, or cheremsha, is more than just a staple. It's also big business. In this impoverished Caucasus region of Russia, still scarred by two wars, a day's pickings can bring in as much as $40. But collecting the nutritious sprouts in the traditional months of January and February carries its risks; pickers in years past have occasionally been shot after being mistaken for insurgents. Now they face a new hurdle. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov initially forbade the picking of cheremsha from state forests, although he has since had a change of heart -- now harvesting wild garlic is permitted, but only for those who get a permit. Our photographer traveled to the village of Bamut to see how it's done.

Chechens pay 100 rubles for a permit to pick wild garlic. Many complain, but admit the paper offers some security from being 'mistaken' for fighters.
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Chechens pay 100 rubles for a permit to pick wild garlic. Many complain, but admit the paper offers some security from being 'mistaken' for fighters.

Pickers get an early start. Many will spend up to 10 hours a day in the forest picking up to 30 kilograms of wild garlic.
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Pickers get an early start. Many will spend up to 10 hours a day in the forest picking up to 30 kilograms of wild garlic.

Drivers, waiting in their battered vehicles, transport the pickers to remote forests where the garlic grows, charging 30 rubles per passenger.
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Drivers, waiting in their battered vehicles, transport the pickers to remote forests where the garlic grows, charging 30 rubles per passenger.

Pickers, many of them young boys, scramble into the back of a pickup truck for the journey across muddy, rutted pathways.
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Pickers, many of them young boys, scramble into the back of a pickup truck for the journey across muddy, rutted pathways.

From the vans and trucks, the pickers head out with their sacks for the task at hand.
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From the vans and trucks, the pickers head out with their sacks for the task at hand.

Two men take a break from their work. They use a rake to brush aside the snow and fallen foliage covering the coveted garlic.
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Two men take a break from their work. They use a rake to brush aside the snow and fallen foliage covering the coveted garlic.

A Russian military helicopter hovers over the forest in the Chechen village of Bamut. In the past, many pickers have been shot after being mistaken for rebel fighters. Some have also died after triggering mines laid by Russian forces during the Chechen wars.
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A Russian military helicopter hovers over the forest in the Chechen village of Bamut. In the past, many pickers have been shot after being mistaken for rebel fighters. Some have also died after triggering mines laid by Russian forces during the Chechen wars.

Extracting the green sprouts is a painstaking task.
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Extracting the green sprouts is a painstaking task.

Despite the risks involved, this Chechen man has been gathering wild garlic for 27 years.
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Despite the risks involved, this Chechen man has been gathering wild garlic for 27 years.

After a day's work, the sack is full of wild garlic.
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After a day's work, the sack is full of wild garlic.

The sacks are weighed right away by middlemen who are on hand when the pickers emerge from the forests.
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The sacks are weighed right away by middlemen who are on hand when the pickers emerge from the forests.

The dealers pay the pickers from 100 to 110 rubles per kilogram, before reselling it at about twice the price at markets in the regional capital, Grozny, and elsewhere.
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The dealers pay the pickers from 100 to 110 rubles per kilogram, before reselling it at about twice the price at markets in the regional capital, Grozny, and elsewhere.

With few other opportunities, many young Chechens view garlic picking as one of the few ways to make some money.
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With few other opportunities, many young Chechens view garlic picking as one of the few ways to make some money.

Exhausted after a day of backbreaking work, the pickers cram back into a battered vehicle for the trip back home.
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Exhausted after a day of backbreaking work, the pickers cram back into a battered vehicle for the trip back home.

Cleaned, the wild garlic is cooked on a pan over fire.
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Cleaned, the wild garlic is cooked on a pan over fire.

Fresh farmer's cheese, or tvorog, is sprinkled on top to cap what is a traditional Chechen dish.
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Fresh farmer's cheese, or tvorog, is sprinkled on top to cap what is a traditional Chechen dish.

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