Russian Grain Ban Could Hurt Turkmenistan

Russian Grain Ban Could Hurt Turkmenistan

A decision by Moscow to halt exports of grain because of wildfire damage to crops could result in shortages in Turkmenistan, which buys in much of its wheat.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin announced the total ban on grain sales on August 5, saying it would remain in place till the end of the year. The summer’s dry weather and widespread fires come on top of severe frosts last winter which destroyed winter crops.

The Turkmen government claims that 1.4 million tons of grain were harvested this year, enough to satisfy domestic consumption.

By contrast, the US Department of Agriculture estimates Turkmenistan’s annual demand at about 2.5 million tons.

However much Turkmenistan produces in reality, poor farming methods and an arid climate mean much of the grain is fit only for animal fodder. The country is believed to import about half the flour it needs, from Kazakstan and Russia. This higher-quality flour is freely available, but is too expensive for many.

The Turkmen authorities continue to sell subsidised flour via a ration card system. This spring, the monthly quota was set at six kilograms per person. But an official with Turkmenkhleboprodukty, the state bakery firm, predicts that “the flour quota will be reduced to its former level of four kilograms”.

Observers say that while no one is panicking, some people are quietly stocking up on flour bought at the higher price on the open market.

Annaberdy, a 55-year-old resident of Mary in southeast Turkmenistan watched Putin’s speech on a Russian TV channel, and bought five sacks of wheat grain “just to be on the safe side”.

“I’m stocking up on grain for any eventuality,” he explained.

Annaberdy recalled grain shortages in the 1990s when the monthly flour ration was cut to three or four kilos per person in urban areas, and just two kilos in the countryside. He used to travel to the capital Ashgabat to buy bread, which was still available there.

An interviewee in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan confirmed that people there, too, were buying up the imported flour still on sale in the shops.

“If Kazakstan follows Russia and bans grain exports, we’ll have to tighten our belts,” he said.

 This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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