Kyrgyzstan was renowned during the Soviet era as a producer of milk products, meat and produce, but food self-sufficiency in the Central Asian nation is a thing of the past. The growing dependency on imports is fast emerging as a national security issue.
The shift has been driven by rural flight. From 2006-2010, according to the State Registration Service, the number of farm workers fell at an 8-percent rate. Most of those abandoning their farms headed to the capital Bishkek and other urban centers, where they sought work as traders or laborers. “It has become unprofitable to be a farmer in Kyrgyzstan. There is no distribution market. The cost of farming has risen with the rise of petroleum prices,” said Kubanychbek Umetov, a former potato farmer who gave up and moved to Bishkek from Naryn Province six years ago.
“It is cheaper to take a flight to China and bring back food products from there [for resale]. That is what many of those who used to farm actually do now,” Umetov added. “Back in Soviet times our vegetables were carried all the way to Siberia. There is nothing like that now.”
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Dina Tokbaeva is a freelance journalist based in Bishkek.