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Bulgaria: Wheat Reserves Dwindling

Sofia, 20 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - The director of Sofia's main flour mill said today that Bulgaria's caretaker government must urgently unblock wartime wheat reserves to alleviate worsening bread shortages across the country.

Mill director Emil Zhivkov said some 15,000 tons of wheat reserves are needed to help the country through the immediate crisis. Officials said last week that the state's current reserves would run out by mid-March.

Our correspondent in Sofia quotes Zhivkov as saying that a 31,000 ton shipment of Australian grain is expected to arrive in Bulgaria between March 5 and 10. But he says reserves in Sofia are enough to last only four or five more days.

Caretaker prime minister Stefan Sofianski confirmed today that Bulgaria would use part of its wheat reserves. But he said the country needs 450,000 tons of wheat to fill the gap until the next harvest. He said one solution is to import wheat now against "futures contracts" that would require Bulgaria to export the same amount of wheat from its next harvest.

Farmers in Bulgaria told RFE/RL that they had little incentive to work their farms last year because profits have been drained by private middlemen connected to the previous Socialist government. Nomenklatura companies exported Bulgaria's grain reserves last year for private profit.