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Central Asia news

Kyrgyz nationals cannot afford meat or milk available at a prohibitively high price

25.06.2008 18:44 msk

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Analytics Kyrgyzstan

A review of food supplies in Kyrgyzstan paints a troubled picture. Kyrgyz farmers have repeatedly been unable to sow wheat in the quantities the country needs. Sources in the Ministry of Agriculture told Ferghana.Ru that the program to assure the security of the nation’s food supplies has not been successful. The situation with foodstuffs, and particularly bread, compels the national leadership to seek a way out of the crisis. The government response has been to reduce the bureaucracy and then channel that money into agriculture. Experts believe such moves will be ineffective.

Soaring prices and the prospects of food shortages this winter are the talk of the day in Kyrgyzstan. Official reports from ministries and departments are disheartening: 392,800 hectares are under wheat, which is 7,000 hectares less than planned, while white beat plantings amount to only nine percent of the planned amount.

Debilitating inflation began last August as consumers watched food prices double and triple within a year. Petroleum, communal services, and transport fares, then, grew increasingly expensive. Pensions, salaries, and allowances, meager to begin with, were devalued. Most Kyrgyz families were forced to reconsider their options and priorities. Meat and fruits disappeared from their diet as a result of this revision. Some city residents only used their autos when absolute necessary because of the jump in petroleum prices. It is not known whether these blows to the economy have been harder on rural or urban populations. While villagers may grow food on their private land plots, urban dwellers are better paid. Those independent media outlets that have survived, report that the population in distant regions and districts cannot afford meat or milk. Government-owned newspapers and TV networks have not reported on these conditions.

Affected by the deteriorating demand for meat, butter, milk, confectionery, and so on, Bishkek stores reduced their stocks. The population prefers to buy essentials at bazaars where they are marginally cheaper. Mineral water and soft drinks are probably the only items in high demand, and that only because of the scorching heat in Bishkek. Food prices stabilized a bit last month, due to harvesting the latest crops. Economists warn that food prices begin to fall in September and October but will soar again later in the year. While the government has assured the public that there is enough food for all, it has not addressed concerns about the predicted rise in food costs expected this winter.

Kyrgyzstan cannot, at this point, feed itself. Mountains make up nearly 95% of its territory, and the land that has been planted is used inefficiently. Further, halfhearted effort to carry out the tasks the government assigns state officials and farmers are inevitably frustrated by the shape of agricultural machinery badly in need of repairs, expensive fuel, shortages of water for irrigation, lack of seeds and manpower, poor workmanship, officials' lack of expertise and corruption.

The government took certain preventive steps, trying to cope with the situation and thwart a famine. It introduced export duties (wheat, flour, and vegetable oil), launched the food security program and even elicited a promise from international financial organizations to finance it. Unfortunately, implementation of the program was disappointing.

It is believed that the state cannot hope to accomplish more. The empty treasury and harsh climate combine to thwart attempts to remedy the situation. April frosts in the Chui and Talass regions, May mudslides and hail in the southern regions and in the Chui Valley cost Kyrgyzstan almost 2.3 billion soms or 1.5 billion rubles. A shortage of seeds for planting may total 14,000 tons throughout the republic and over 8,600 tons in the Chui region alone.

To crown it all, Kyrgyzstan desperately needs water. The Cabinet has said it is doing what it can. Authorities have also promised to reduce the bureaucracy by one third and channel the money saved into agriculture. Whether or not these measures are efficient will become clear within months.

Grigori Mikhailov. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, No 127, June 25, 2008, p. 10. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru