Alertes - Tajikistan 264

SPECIAL ALERT NO. 264 - TAJIKISTAN - 5 February 1996


The food supply situation in Tajikistan, a low-income food-deficit country of 5.5 million people, is very serious and unless food assistance reaches the country in the near future, serious shortages are anticipated. The country needs some 530 000 tons of foodgrains imports this year to meet the basic human consumption needs but so far only about 40 percent of this requirement has been met. Debt, shortages of barter goods and currency reserves have resulted in progressively reduced imports since 1991 and stock depletion. By 1994/95 per caput cereal consumption had about halved and, at around 240 grams per person per day, was inadequate. In 1995/96 wheat supplies have become even more precarious as high international cereal prices, a disappointing food aid pipeline and poor harvests in the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, its traditional suppliers, have exacerbated the problem. Food shortages are increasing ethnic tension, and putting at risk effort to achieve national reconciliation following the civil conflict in 1992/93.

Reliable and systematic information on production, trade and utilization of basic foodstuffs has become scarce since the civil war and the virtual collapse of the economy. A subsistence economy has developed in response to the almost complete inability of the government to pay wages and salaries or to collect revenues.

Grain production averaged around 270 000 tons over the past five years and included about 150 000 tons of wheat. Farmers' ability to increase grain production is severely limited by official policies which continue to emphasize cotton production on state farms, by the slow progress in the transfer of productive land to farmers for foodcrop production and by the shortages and poor management of input supplies. Despite these obstacles, the area sown to wheat has increased in the past five years but yields have fallen steadily due to the lack of good seed, fuel, spare parts, the breakdown of mechanization generally, the progressive malfunctioning of the irrigation system and the increasing use of marginal, upland, rainfed land for grains. In 1995 grain output fell to about 240 000.

The outlook for the 1996 harvest is mixed. Rural populations have planted wheat wherever possible including the steepest upland slopes but yields are likely to decline further and in addition harvest losses are expected to remain high.

The commercial import capacity of the country is severely limited. Accumulated debt exceeds annual GDP and neither the government or the central bank have any significant currency reserves. Barter is the main form of trade but production of cotton and aluminum (the main barter goods) have fallen sharply in recent years. The country has inadequate uncommitted supplies of these commodities to cover its essential imports which include, in addition to cereals fuel, agricultural inputs and the raw materials for the aluminum production. Moreover, its traditional trading partners are now insisting on delivery of goods before release of any required products. Although the country relies heavily on the Russian Federation, it receives little or no aid from this source. Dealings are on a commercial basis, at world prices, and the conduct of the negotiations is very much determined by the urgency to meet shortagesin Tajikistan.

Imports of cereals have fallen from over 1 million tons in 1990/91 to an estimated 400 000 tons in 1994/95. Imports of most other commodities have been reduced to a trickle. In 1995/96, indications are that the country has imported commercially about 90 000 tons of cereals and in addition has confirmed food aid allocations, including those for the most vulnerable populations, amounting to about 140 000 tons. However only about half of the pledged food aid had actually arrived in the country by end 1995.

Reduced imports have resulted in much smaller quantities of grain in the state distribution system on which the bulk of the population has to rely in view of the highly centralized state control of cereal imports, processing and commercial baking. Thus, production of wheat flour fell from an average of 710 000 tons in 1988-91 to 380 000 tons in 1994 and distribution of flour fell from 120 kg per caput in to 64 kg in 1994 and declined further in 1995. Currently, supplies of flour in the state system are well below minimum requirements. Many urban people can no longer obtain bread from the state distribution system. Rural populations are surviving on intermittent distributions of grain from the grain produced on state farms, supplemented by output from the small private plots and "privately" cultivated, often marginal, lands. In these areas the supply situation is so tight that some people are using wheat milling by-products as food. Even on the parallel market wheat flour is scarce and commands a price of U.S.$ 600 per ton. A loaf of traditional bread costs the equivalent of U.S.$ 1 per kilo - the entire monthly wage of a teacher.

The minimum cereal requirement for 1995/96 has been estimated by FAO at 760 000 tons, including 600 000 tons for direct human consumption and the balance mainly for seed, losses, industrial use and animal feed (Table 1). Against this requirement, domestic production in 1995 is estimated at about 230 000 tons, (excluding pulses and with rice in milled equivalent) leaving an annual import requirement of 530 000 tons, mainly wheat or wheat substitutes.

Table 1 Tajikistan - Estimated Cereal Availability and Utilization 1990-1996 ('000 tons)

Domestic Availability620335265234225
. Opening stocks350802665
. Production270255239228220
. Food use870660498600600
. Feed use400309605050
. Other uses200140110105100
. Closing stocks250266525
Imports and/or import requirements1100800409526550
Per caput consumption (kg/pa)16012090109109

In the first seven months of the current marketing year (July 1995-January 1996), indications are that the country has imported only 160 000 tons and has virtually exhausted domestic supplies of foodgrains from its1995 harvest. Even so, minimum direct human consumption needs, estimated at 300 grams per person per day, have only been partially met. In the remaining 5 months of the current marketing year, given food consumption needs of 50 000 tons of wheat per month, the country would need a minimum of 250 000 tons. Against this requirement only about 70 000 tons of food aid are expected, leaving a gap of 180 000 tons yet to be covered to meet needs until end June 1996. Deep recession, rapid devaluation of the Tajik rouble and debts in excess of GDP severely constrain the country's capacity to mobilize this amount commercially, whether in the CIS or abroad. Thus, there is an urgent need to increase food aid allocations to the country and to step up deliveries of pledged quantities. In addition, the country urgently needs international assistance to increase domestic wheat production. In the first instance, the provision of suitable wheat seed in time for spring planting could help to arrest the steady decline in yields and increase rural food security.

Plans should be made to continue food assistance after June 1996. The new 1996 crop to be harvested from July is unlikely to be better than last year and therefore cereal import needs in 1996/97 are tentatively projected to remain large and beyond the capacity of the country to buy on a commercial basis.

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