Kyrgyzstan Faces Grain Shortage, Livestock Deaths
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.
Kyrgyzstan typically imports hundreds of thousands of tons of grain and flour each year, mostly from neighboring Kazakhstan and Russia, and ag officials say this year will be the same. However, exporting countries may themselves face shortages, largely due to heat and drought, and prices worldwide are on the rise. Russia’s harvest this year, according to AllAboutFeed.net could reach just 80 million tons, with a domestic need of 73 million and commercial export contracts for 12-15 million, while the situation in Kazakhstan “is only slightly better.”
“Because of rising prices for grain on world markets, Kyrgyzstan is going to be in for a tough autumn,” Economics Minister Temir Sariyev said July 24.
If that weren’t bad enough, the country has reportedly lost thousands of head of cattle to a new strain of foot-and-mouth disease, which has led to a suspension of meat exports. According to preliminary data cited in June by GlobalMeatNews.com, 3,000 to 4,000 head of cattle have died in Kyrgyzstan so far this year due to the disease, which is believed to afflict even vaccinated livestock.
In early July, the recently appointed agriculture minister, Askarbek Zhanybekov, said the disease has kept the country from exporting meat: “Today, Kyrgyzstan is exporting only dairy products,” he said. “Meat products cannot be taken out of the country due to our epizootic situation, which is not so good.”
In developing its agricultural sector, the prime minister said last week, Kyrgyzstan has only one option: “to create large, unified cooperatives that will use mechanized labor.” The idea is a good one from an economics perspective, but many a hurdle remains to be cleared. Meanwhile, according to official statistics, over a third of agricultural production comes from individual family farms -- whose owners, like the rest of their compatriots, will surely be hard hit by rising grain prices and poorly controlled outbreaks of animal disease.