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Turkmen Leader Hails 'Generous' Harvests Despite Food Shortages

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov says that his country has become a wheat-exporting nation, according to state media, amid reports that the local population is facing severe food shortages.

"Turkmenistan has become a country that exports wheat abroad. In the year 'Turkmenistan -- Motherland of Prosperity,' we will have a generous wheat harvest again," the Altyn Asyr website quoted Berdymukhammedov as telling a cabinet meeting on May 15.

The authoritarian Turkmen leader also said that "large-scale measures to ensure food abundance are being implemented in the country."

Berdymukhammedov didn't give any further details.

In a separate speech on May 16, the president said that "massive efforts" were under way to transform the agriculture sector to "one of the most profitable" spheres of activities.

Berdymukhammedov's comments come as tightly controlled, energy-rich Turkmenistan in recent years has been facing widespread shortages of food supplies and price hikes for food staples.

The government has resorted to rationing supplies of bread, flour, cooking oil, eggs, and other foodstuff and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service has documented frequent long queues in state-owned food stores.

People in Ashgabat wait in line to buy food in a state shop.
People in Ashgabat wait in line to buy food in a state shop.

Prices are regulated in state-run shops that sell flour at the relatively affordable price of about $0.3 per kilogram.

But RFE/RL has recently reported that these stores in the capital, Ashgabat, were selling only 50 kilograms of flour per family per month, which residents say is not enough to cover the needs of traditionally large Turkmen families.

Unemployment is widespread in the country of some 5.6 million, and many ordinary Turkmen can't afford foodstuffs that are sold in bazaars at much higher prices.

In the province of Mary, some state stores often run out of flour, according to the RFE/RL correspondent in the region.

"In Mary's Bairamali district, merchants are bringing flour from neighboring regions and selling a 50-kilogram sack for 200 manats [$57]. That is four times more expensive than the price in the state stores," the correspondent said.

Authorities in Turkmenistan have never publicly denied nor confirmed reports about the food shortages and rationing.

State-controlled media rarely report about any problem in the country and never criticize government policies.