Doubts Over Turkmen Grain Harvest Claims

Doubts Over Turkmen Grain Harvest Claims

Tuesday, 4 August, 2009
The authorities in Turkmenistan have announced that this year’s wheat harvest has hit a record high, but local observers are sceptical that this is true.

Ahead of Harvest Festival, celebrated on July 19, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov praised farmers for delivering over 1.2 million tons of wheat, a 50 per cent increase on last year.

If this is the case, Turkmenistan should have more than enough grain to cover its needs, but agriculture experts doubt the figure is accurate.

“I am not sure there is 1.2 million tons of wheat in stock,” said a former employee of a bread and flour enterprise in the southeastern Mary region. “The real harvest figures remain a closely-guarded secret.”

He explained that agricultural statistics are routinely fabricated by local government officials keen to show the president they have fulfilled their obligations under the “state plan”.

“The reality is that less than a million tons of grain has been produced nationally. The rest – 250,000 to 300,000 tons – is over-reported,” he said.

Other observers agree that the figures are exaggerated.

An observer in the northern region of Dashoguz notes that President Berdymuhammedov complained that economic data were being inflated at a cabinet meeting in June, when the government discussed performance over the first half of 2009.

Kakamurad Mommadov, the head of the state statistical committee, was dismissed for embellishing data.

A 60-year-old farmer in Dashoguz’s Konyaurgench district asked how poor production figures region by region could add up to a record total.

“Out of all five regions, only Lebap fulfilled its plan, while Dashoguz province didn’t manage to gather even half of its target,” he said. “Where do these record figures and talk of an unprecedented harvest come from?”

In the countryside, farmers are quietly stocking up on their private grain stocks.

Turkmenistan retains rationing for flour, introduced by the late president Saparmurat Niazov in the early Nineties. Ration cards are issued on a monthly basis allowing people to buy four kilograms of subsidised flour.

“The ration of flour given to each family isn’t enough, so we have to solve our problems by ourselves,” said a farmer from the village of Yolotan in Mary region, explaining why people were stockpiling grain they had produced.

The subsidised flour costs 40 tenge a kilogram, the equivalent of 14 US cents. Imported flour from Russia and Kazakstan is available in shops and markets, but it is expensive and is mainly bought by better-off people.

Turkmenistan is forced to import higher-quality grain since the arid climatic conditions mean that what it grows itself is suitable only for cattle fodder.

Data from the United States agriculture department suggest that as of 2005, Turkmenistan’s annual consumption needs came to about 2.5 million tons of wheat, of which 300,000 tons is used as seed.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

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