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Coping With Rising Food Prices In Central Asia

In Uzbekistan, the average price of a traditional dish has gone up by almost 70 percent since December 2019.
In Uzbekistan, the average price of a traditional dish has gone up by almost 70 percent since December 2019.

The cost of living is on the rise in Central Asia just like it is around the world. COVID-19, severe droughts, supply problems caused by the pandemic, and, most recently, the war in Ukraine have all been contributing factors.

For several months now, there have been reports of shortages and increased prices of food staples such as flour, rice, cooking oil, sugar, and in some parts, carrots and onions. And it's not only food that is getting expensive. So are fuel, electricity, gas, and everything else.

This inflation, of course, hits the most vulnerable in what are already lower-middle-income, remittance- and import-dependent economies.

In Uzbekistan, for instance, where the government calculates the so-called "Plov index" to measure the cost of living, the average price of a portion of this traditional dish in Tashkent has gone up by almost 70 percent, or a dollar, since December 2019. This is a significant rise given that the average salary in the country is roughly $300.

In a live discussion on June 16, hosted by RFE/RL, I spoke with Mouslim Buriev, an independent researcher and resident of Dushanbe, and Sumsarbek Mamyraliev, a restaurant owner in Bishkek, about how inflation has affected them and what they had to give up or take up to cut their expenses.

Key Takeaways:

Sumsarbek Mamyraliev: "If we cannot find any ingredients, we just don't sell the certain dish, because it's Thai cuisine. I cannot replace anything. Ginger went up from 180 som per kilo to 2,700. Bird's eye chili pepper was 35 som per kilo. It went up as high as 1,100 som. One egg used to be 4 som, and now it's 11. The meat is very expensive. We used to use flour from Ukraine, and it was the best flour that you could get apart from Italian flour, which is five times more expensive. Now we don't have it on the market."

"Before, we used to be only a restaurant. Now, in order to survive, we do catering; we participate in different food festivals. I rent out the second floor to companies and international organizations for different events."

Mouslim Buriev: "Prices for particular products have skyrocketed. For example, flour has gone up by 30 percent. At the beginning of this year, we would buy a 50-kilogram sack -- and we usually buy flour in such amounts to save some money -- for $28. Now it costs $35. An average income in Tajikistan is around $150 so it's quite a substantial sum."

"There's a small restaurant near the place where I work. I used to go for lunches there but now I decided not to because the prices for lunches increased by about 25 percent, and some items were removed from the menu. The price of food delivery also doubled since the war in Ukraine began. So sometimes I bring food to work from home and eat at my working place. And I started using taxis less often because the prices of petrol increased and so did the cost of taxi service. I use public transport instead. I take two buses to get to work. It takes more time but it's cheaper."

Listen to the full conversation here:

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Read more on the subject from RFE/RL:

War In Ukraine Causes Global Food Shortage Central Asian Neighbors

To Feel The Pain As Kazakhstan Suspends Wheat, Flour Exports

Russia's Economic Doldrums Causing Hardship In Kyrgyzstan

Is A Hungry Summer Coming To Central Asia?

What's Behind The State Of Emergency And Protests Erupting Across Kazakhstan?

Central Asian Heat Wave And Drought Creating Water Shortages, Crop Failures

Follow @RFERL on Twitter so as not to miss our regular conversations on life and social change in Central Asia every Thursday at 3 p.m. in Prague/ 9 a.m. in Washington (7 p.m. local time in Bishkek/Almaty/Astana, and 6 p.m local time in Tashkent/Dushanbe/Ashgabat).

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    Bermet Talant

    Bermet Talant is a journalist from Kyrgyzstan who is currently based in Sydney. She previously worked as a political reporter for the Kyiv Post and completed a Reuters Institute fellowship at Oxford University. She has also written for The Guardian, the Lowy Institute, Eurasianet, openDemocracy, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.