Farmers in Kazakhstan are appealing to the president for urgent assistance following a difficult summer that saw the intense heat gravely reduce the size of the grain crop.
On top of the scorching conditions of the last few months, wheat growers are now confronting a whole other problem.
As local media reported earlier this week, early-ripening wheat has begun to spoil but cannot be harvested effectively due to prolonged rains across fields in northern regions.
“In the summer, the crops were exposed to extreme solar activity. As a result, the yield in almost all regions is lagging not just behind last year, but also the long-term average,” a group of farmers wrote in an appeal addressed to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Official figures back up these assertions. The Agriculture Ministry has said that farmers in regions in the north of Kazakhstan have on average harvested about 23 percent of their crop. Much of the remainder is likely to perish, it said.
The Association of Agricultural Producers in the Kostanay region says that rains have caused damage to about 20 percent of this year’s crop, making it unsuitable for use even as livestock feed.
“Every day you can safely add another 3 percent [to the size of the losses],” the head of another lobby organization, the Union of Field Growers, Viktor Aslanov, was quoted as saying by news outlet Bes.media.
The consequence for many is potential bankruptcy. In their appeal to Tokayev, farmers pleaded that he intercede to have loan repayments deferred for one year and for the government to set its fixed price for grain purchases above market rates. They also want to see protectionist measures – notably, a ban on the importation of cheap agricultural products from Russia.
While the loss of the harvest spells possible financial doom for farmers, food security is not said to be an issue. The amount of grain that has been harvested already, as well as the 1.3 million tons grain held in reserve by the Food Corporation, a state-owned grain procurement and processing company, should be enough for domestic needs and even allow for exports.
And so, despite the gloomy news, the Agriculture Ministry was still able to report on September 3 on a recent maiden consignment of 1,300 tons of grain to the Shandong province in east China – a new market for Kazakhstan. Under an agreement signed earlier this month between the Food Corporation and Shandong-based Binzhou Zhongyu Food, the plan is for the total volume of consignments to reach 200,000 tons. Overall, in the first half of this year, Kazakhstan delivered 100,000 tons of grain to China. Although the exact timeframe is hazy, the future goal is to increase annual grain exports to China to 1 million tons.
There is an inescapable paradox here. While Kazakhstan makes buoyant projections, individual farmers are perennially teetering on ruin. And their plight has only been complicated by the cheap Russian grain that has flooded the domestic market, including through smuggling. To make matters worse, this dumping strategy is threatening to squeeze Kazakh exporters out of other traditional key markets, such as neighboring Kyrgyzstan and, further afield, Iran.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.