As Kazakhstan, the breadbasket of Central Asia, struggles with a disastrous grain harvest this year due to drought, Astana has accused local officials of massaging statistics. It’s all reminiscent of the Soviet-era tradition of overstating production to meet central government plans.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Muslim Umiryayev said discrepancies had been revealed between satellite monitoring data on the harvest and preliminary figures supplied to the government by Kazakhstan’s three northern grain-growing regions: Kostanay, Akmola and North Kazakhstan.
He said there was a discrepancy of 1.4 million metric tons.
Umiryayev added that Astana was receiving desperate appeals from farmers being forced by local governments to overstate production. “This fact is confirmed by the presence of appeals reaching the minister’s blog from agricultural producers, in which they indicate that local government employees are in a number of cases asking them for false reports overstating productivity,” he said in comments carried by Bnews.kz.
In the Soviet Union, local officials often distorted economic output figures to Moscow in order to conceal poor production, as well as corruption. In the 1980s, for example, Kazakhstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan was rocked by scandal when Moscow accused Communist Party officials of skimming off billions by submitting distorted reports on cotton harvests.
Last week, Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister set some ambitious goals for the country’s farming sector: On July 20, Omurbek Babanov told hundreds of local officials that Kyrgyzstan must become a “regional leader” in agriculture, not just fully meeting domestic demand, but exporting 90 percent of its produce to cover “the needs of neighboring states.”
For now, however, this vision looks like a mirage in the summer haze.
Due to this year’s high temperatures and low rainfall, “Kyrgyzstan could lose between 50 percent and 70 percent of its crops” and “the country’s livestock industry may have absolutely no feed this winter,” an industry news website, AllAboutFeed.net, said in a July 19 report, citing unnamed experts.
The Agriculture Ministry expects this year’s domestic wheat production to cover slightly more than half of Kyrgyzstan’s needs, predicting a harvest of 650,000 metric tons versus an estimated food-security minimum of nearly 1.1 million tons plus another 177,000 tons in feed. This would be close to a 20 percent drop in production from 2011, when, according to the National Statistics Committee, the wheat harvest totaled nearly 800,000 tons.
Climate change, a rapidly growing population, poor irrigation practices. For Uzbekistan, all these add up to a worrying future scenario on the food security front, according to a new study by Tashkent’s Centre for Economic Research. From a report on the study, commissioned with support from the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, on the UzNews.net website:
“Water resources are being depleted not only by global warming, but also by the inefficient irrigation systems being used by Uzbekistan’s agricultural producers,” said Ildus Kamilov, senior research coordinator on the project.
Kamilov claims that around half the water that could be used for irrigation is lost, and that channels and pumping stations need to be repaired to reduce those losses.
“A significant proportion of cultivated land in Uzbekistan is irrigated,” Kamilov said. But research has shown that 70% of Uzbekistan’s land is not suitable for agricultural production, either because the land is desert, steppe, or mountainous or soil salinity is too high.”
Soil salinity has degraded the fertility of the land in many regions, particularly Karakalpakstan, Jizak, Navoi, Khorzm, Bukhara, Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya, scientists noted.
“50.2% of all irrigated land is vulnerable to salinity – and 7.3% has been found to be heavily salinized,” Kamilov confirmed.
Scientists who have been taking part in the project stress that these undesirable physical developments are happening against a backdrop of rapid population growth in Uzbekistan, which is outstripping the growth in land area being irrigated. This has a significant impact on the country’s agricultural production and, consequently, on the welfare of its citizens, they say.
An interesting article by environmentalist Lester Brown warns that rising global temperatures will lead to changes in how fast glaciers melt and in the amount of snowpack available, which will affect irrigation. This is of particular significance for the countries of Central Asia, which depend on melting snow for irrigating crops. More details here.
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon has once again donned the mantel of father figure, instructing his people to be charitable during the holy month of Ramadan.
In a televised broadcast on August 9, Rakhmon requested that during the holy month, which began on August 11, the good people of Dushanbe reach out to the weak and vulnerable. To that effect, he asked shopkeepers to resist the temptation to raise the prices of their goods with the holiday market.
Muslims fast during Ramadan, abstaining from food, cigarettes and sex during daylight hours. But the nights can be gluttonous with feasts erupting as soon as the sun dips below the horizon and again in the wee hours before dawn. Prices often rise during the month, putting pressure on Tajiks who, on average, already spend 70 percent of their income on food.
Dushanbe Mayor/Parliamentary Speaker Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev – Tajikistan’s Number Two – has backed Rakhmon’s injunction. On August 6, Ubaidulloev ordered price controls on goods sold in the local markets for the month.
First Kyrgyzstan's economy suffered when Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan closed their borders. Then, in some parts of the South, farmers couldn’t plant their annual second crops due to the unrest, market closures, and their inability to access seeds and fuels from abroad.
Now regional grain supplies may be under threat. Oxford Analytical reports that fears of an ongoing Russian drought have sent European grain prices higher.
European milling wheat futures have jumped by nearly 2.8% this morning on worries that this summer's persistent drought will force Russia to cut total grain exports in the 2010-11 crop year (which began on July 1) by some 45.5% compared with the previous season. Respected Moscow-based agricultural consultancy SovEcon has predicted that wheat exports will fall from 18.2 to 11.0 million tonnes, and that barley exports will fall from 2.8 to 0.5 million tonnes. SovEcon predicted that the authorities would have to impose export restrictions.
Though worldwide supplies of grain remain healthy, in Russian markets (and the CIS), “food prices could rise significantly in coming months,” the report warned.