Imagine working all month only to find out after receiving your paycheck that the money you earned is barely enough to buy flour to make bread. For many in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, that is the harsh reality of their lives, as this man in Dushanbe told RFE/RL's Tajik Service.
"I am receiving a 20 somoni pension, but one sack of flour (50 kilos) is 72 somoni," he said. "I have 16 people in my household. Now, I am lost, and I do not know what to do. They could raise prices of everything, but not of bread. We do not need meat, but we cannot live without bread."
The average salary in Tajikistan is about 90 to 100 somoni ($30) per month and naturally there are also bills to pay for rent and utilities.
The reasons for the price increases in Tajikistan are difficult to explain. Murodali Alimardonov, the head of the National Bank, attempted to shed some light on the causes of the inflationary prices.
"The increasing prices of basic imported goods -- mainly grain -- and simultaneously, the decreasing world prices of export goods, are connected to the continuation of the successful implementation of structural reforms, especially in the agricultural sector and land reforms," he said.
Economy and Development Ministry spokesman Rasuljan Ghafuri offered this simpler explanation, also expressing the opinion that the government should play a role in gradually raising prices.
"These are market prices, but there should be mechanisms to regulate them and the government should use these mechanisms," he said.
Across the border in Uzbekistan people are dealing with the same problem. In what has become something of a tradition, the Uzbek government recently increased wages and then, shortly after, raised the prices for basic goods. Risolat is from Uzbekistan's southern Syr-Darya Province and she explained her situation to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.
"For me it would be better if prices would stay at the same level without raising wages because they add a little to salaries but then prices go up a lot," she said. "For example, I am a nurse and my wages recently went up by 4,000 or 5,000 som [per month], but yesterday prices went up a lot. [It would be] better to keep wages at their current levels and not raise prices. I get 70,000 som ($53) and this is not enough for my room [in a communal apartment], utilities, and food. You go to the bazaar with 10,000 or 20,000 som and you cannot buy anything."
Risolat's comments were echoed by Ziyodulla, a man from the northern city of Jizzah.
Big Harvest Could Offer Relief
"The salary is not sufficient," he said. "For example, here in our market, one liter of cotton oil is about 2,200 som. One kilogram of meat is approximately 4,300 to 4,500 som, one [50kg] bag of the cheapest [low quality] flour is 18,000 or 19,000 som."
Other Central Asian countries have thus far not reported any significant rises in the prices of basic goods. In fact, Kazakhstan last week reported that its grain harvest would be 17,000-18,000 tons, nearly twice what the country's population consumes. That has led some to wonder if what is happening in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan might be the result of price speculation by some unscrupulous entrepreneurs.
Tajik authorities say the problem with bread should ease soon after this year's harvest is brought in. But officials are basing this on estimates that the grain harvest will be about 1 million tons while, unofficially, many in Tajikistan's agricultural sector say the country would be fortunate to bring in two-thirds of that figure.
The populations of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan may be encouraged by knowing that in Russia -- where there were similar problems with the prices of basic goods, especially for bread -- officials this week are saying that bread prices are decreasing and that trend should continue.
(Salimjon Aioubov and Mirzo Salimov of the Tajik Service and Khurmat Babajanov of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)