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Consumers fear possible price hikes
By Bakyt Ibraimov
OSH – The Kyrgyz government is taking steps to alleviate any shortage and price increases due to a weak grain harvest.
"The spring was rainy, and I had to re-sow wheat twice," farmer Salmoorbek Tilevaldiyev, 39, of Sadyrbai village in Karasui District, Osh Oblast, said of this year’s weather challenges. "Then, … beginning in July, a heat wave hit southern Kyrgyzstan, and the lack of moisture killed part of the crop."
Bad weather is the main reason for the lower grain harvest, which could lead to higher prices, Egemberdy Matkarimov, an agronomist with Ayil Dyikandary (Rural Farmers) Ltd., told Central Asia Online.
"Some farmers lost half of the crop, others up to 80%," he said. "All that happened because of the dry summer and lack of irrigation water that failed to reach via the canals the lower-elevation fields planted under wheat, rye and barley."
This year's harvest will be lower than it was last year nationwide, Agriculture and Land Improvement Ministry spokesman Kymbatbek Musayev told Central Asia Online.
"The total grain yield is 597,100 tonnes (this year), down from 831,100 tonnes in 2011," he said. "Of that amount, wheat accounts for 422,800 tonnes – 213,400 tonnes less than last year. The total yield of barley so far is 174,300 tonnes, down 20,600 tonnes from last year.”
Kyrgyzstan is harvesting crops at a rate of approximately 1.7 tonne/ha, half as much as last year, Musayev said.
To remain self-sufficient in terms of food, the country needs 1.2m tonnes of grain a year, including 900,000 tonnes that is milled into flour, according to official statistics.
Stockpile distribution, imports likely
The yield challenges started with unfavourable weather last year, which affected planting, said Zhumabek Asymbekov, head of the Agriculture Ministry's Food Security Department.
"We'd planned to sow winter wheat on nearly 280,000ha of land but managed to cover only 179,000ha, with 100,040ha going unplanted because of the early winter," he said. "In spring, too, we sowed wheat on 48,000ha fewer than planned. We always harvest less spring wheat than winter wheat, and still worse, the drought killed 30% of the wheat sown in spring."
If prices rise sharply, however, the government will be able to distribute wheat from its stockpile to support the poor, the Economy and Antimonopoly Policy Ministry said in a late-August press release.
"Our task is to prevent domestic flour price hikes and allow individuals to import up to 100kg of wheat flour duty-free," then-Acting Economy and Antimonopoly Policy Minister Temir Sariyev said. "That would be a way to support domestic producers and safeguard the country's food security."
The government is also altering trade policies to avoid any grain shortfalls. It has suspended flour exports for six months, and the country plans to import grain from Kazakhstan and Russia.
"The measure is meant to prevent a critical shortage and price rises on the domestic wheat and flour market and to invigorate efforts to stem grain and flour smuggling out of the country," a government press release said of plans to import 200,000 tonnes of grain from Kazakhstan.
Russia is expected to deliver 100,000 tonnes of grain to Kyrgyzstan by year's end.
"Of that volume, 20,000 tonnes will be provided by the Russian government free of charge, and the rest under a loan with a one-year grace period," Food and Agriculture Organisation analyst Azizbek Aliyev said.
Grain and flour prices are bound to rise, Asymbekov said.
"A tonne of grain cost on average US $190 (9,000 KGS) in Kazakhstan a month ago, and now it sells for US $270 (12,700 KGS)," he said. "Bread and bakery prices are directly dependent on wheat and flour prices. Last year, they fell because of the rich grain crop harvested in Kazakhstan as well as the downward trend in prices for food-grade wheat. This year, world prices are rising again."
The government has met with flour-milling industry representatives to ask them not to raise prices, Economy and Antimonopoly Policy Deputy Minister Oleg Pankratov said.
"Should prices go up 20% over a month's time, the government might introduce regulation of prices of socially essential goods,” Pankratov said. "But that’s an extreme measure that could foster a black market."
The government is also discussing the possible purchase of 100,000 tonnes of wheat specifically to aid the poor.
"Also, we plan to organise fairs where food, including wheat, pasta and baked products, will be sold," Pankratov said.
Maksat Osmonaliyev contributed to this report.