Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The ban on wheat exports, decided on April 15 in Astana, is greatly affecting the nearby countries that are not self-sufficient, like Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, struck by a frigid winter that has destroyed much of the region's crops. Importing wheat from another country will raise costs, including that of transportation, and the finances of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (which import 214,000 and 216,000 tons of Kazakh wheat, equal to 19% and 15% of their respective consumption) are already stretched thin. Azerbaijan also buys about 360,000 tonnes of Kazakh wheat each year.
The ban, which does not include flour and will be in effect at least until September 1 (when the new harvest can be assessed) is motivated by the desire to contain domestic inflation, ensure domestic needs, and prevent a scarcity of bread as happened in 2007. It follows the ban or reduced exports decided by other large producers in the region, like Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, but also Egypt and Argentina. In many countries throughout the world, the scarcity of food has caused public protests.
Kazakhstan harvested 20.1 million tons of wheat in 2007, an increase of 22% compared with the 16.6 million tons in 2006. In 2007, it exported 8 million tonnes (some of it in the form of flour). The price has increased greatly and continues to rise, partly because of lower harvests in many countries because of drought, the use of farmland for biofuels, and greater worldwide demand. Astana plans to increase its production to 26 million tonnes in a few years, and to export 12 million: for this purpose, it is building new infrastructure on the Caspian Sea for transport to the West, and is also planning increase sales to China.
Analysts maintain that the ban could be retracted even before September, since it prevents producers from making greater profits and could cause speculative hoarding, favour corruption and black market exports, or even discourage production. They observe that the effect on domestic prices is temporary, and predict rapid growth as soon as the ban is revoked. (PB)