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Russia Provides Food Aid To Armenia

Armenian officials hope to boost domestic wheat production.
Armenian officials hope to boost domestic wheat production.
YEREVAN -- An Armenian government official says Armenia has begun receiving thousands of tons of grain and cooking oil from Russia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Emergency Situations Minister Armen Yeritsian said 5,000 tons of grain and 1,000 tons of sunflower oil would help the country cope with a recent sharp increase in international prices of these goods.

The price hike followed a severe summer drought that devastated crops across Russia and led Moscow to ban all grain exports. The measure pushed up the cost of wheat in international markets to the highest level since the 2007-08 global food crisis.

Bread prices in Armenia soared by more than 20 percent in July and August.

Imported wheat, most of it coming from Russia, meets nearly two-thirds of Armenia's domestic demand, estimated at roughly 600,000 metric tons per annum.

Armenian officials have repeatedly assured the population in recent months that the Russian export ban will not lead to wheat shortages in the local market.

Speaking at a weekly meeting of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian's cabinet, Yeritsian said nearly half of the sunflower oil donated by Moscow had already been shipped to Armenia.

"The rest of the oil will be imported within one week, after which we will start receiving grain shipments," he said.

An official at the Emergency Situations Ministry told RFE/RL that the grain deliveries would start on October 4.

It is not yet clear just how the authorities in Yerevan plan to use the food aid. Yeritsian said only that it would be stored at warehouses of his ministry's Agency for State Reserves for the time being.

Government critics believe that the impact of external factors on domestic food prices would have been less severe had lucrative imports of wheat and other basic foodstuffs to Armenia not been effectively monopolized by a handful of government-linked businessmen.

The government, for its part, says the best way to guard against international price fluctuations is to ease Armenia's heavy dependence on wheat imports. In July it approved a five-year plan of actions which officials said would boost domestic wheat output to over 350,000 tons by 2013.