Focus on Turkmenistan

by Chris Lyddon
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Turkmenistan is one of the driest countries in the world and much of its area is desert. Irrigation has made it possible to produce a major cotton crop, although its importance as an export has been overshadowed by the value of the country’s natural gas reserves.

The Karakum Desert, occupies about 70% of the area of Turkmenistan. Despite the limited availability of land, Turkmenistan’s farmers, according to the News Central Asia information service, produced more than 1.5 million tonnes of grain in 2010. Government plans call for the production of 1.6 million tonnes of grain from 860,000 hectares in 2011.

According to a report on seed production published by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Turkmenistan has a total agricultural area of 40.2 million hectares of the country’s overall area of 49.1 million hectares. About 1.8 million hectares are irrigated, with pasture taking up a further 38.4 million hectares.

It described the climate as continental, with very cold winters and very hot, very dry summers.

EXPORTS ANNOUNCED

In early March, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow announced that in 2011 Turkmenistan will become an exporter of milling grains for the first time. According to the APK Inform news agency, he signed a decree, which allows the bakery products association Turkmengallaonumleri to sell 217,000 tonnes of wheat from the 2010 harvest through the state commodity exchange. The association will sell 150,000 tonnes of wheat and 50,000 tonnes of flour, produced from 67,000 tonnes of wheat grains.

The move comes amid signs of an increased government focus on the grains sector. The government has identified a shortage of elevators as a problem. President Berdimuhamedow ordered the construction of more silos and mills. A report by Central Asian Newswire noted that President Berdimuhamedow had focused on developing gas exports.

“His agricultural efforts have focused mainly on increasing irrigation capabilities to grow more wheat,” it said. Kazakhstan showed the region, at a time of severe drought, the value of having high quality storage facilities which protect grain stocks from decay.

The news service Turkmenistan.ru said that on Aug. 25-26 Turkmengallaonumleri had commissioned 50,000-tonne silos at Ruhubelent district of Dashoguz province and Altyn Asyr district of Akhal province, as well as a 30,000-tonne silo in the village of Dushak of Kaahka district of Akhal province. There is also a plan for a modern elevator with a capacity of up to 50,000 tonnes in Yolotan district of Mary province.

According to News Briefing Central Asia (NBCA) of the Institute for War and Peace, the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts Turkmenistan’s annual grain demand at 2.5 million tonnes. NBCA said that a significant portion of Turkmenistan’s harvest will be suitable only as animal feed as a result of the country’s outdated farming methods.

Turkmenistan imported wheat from Russia and Kazakhstan.

AGRICULTURE REFORMED

Agriculture in Turkmenistan went through a process of reform under President Saparmurat Niazov who ran the country from 1990 to 2006. Large Soviet-era collective farms were dismantled and replaced by small private farm holdings. NBCA quoted farmers as saying that the state continues to decide where grain is to be sown, set production quotas for farmers and buy up crops at prices too low to create any incentive. The state provides farmers with seed and fertilizer.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), the state authorities regulate prices for basic foods and provide food subsidies.

“For food security purposes, the government practices the distribution of a certain volume of wheat flour to all population,” GIEWS says on its website. “The quality of local flour and flour products is still poor and therefore a large volume of foodstuff is imported for food consumption. Due to high unemployment and malnutrition in particular in rural areas, food security is at risk, especially for vulnerable groups.”

Turkmenistan’s high dependence on irrigation, particularly for cotton production, has been cited as one of the causes of the drying up of the Aral Sea.

GREENING THE DESERT

Turkmenistan’s government has started an ambitious project to green the desert with the construction of a vast lake. According to Turkmenistan.ru, at the inauguration construction, the president said, that “upon the completion of the second and third phases of the Turkmen lake, Turkmenistan will have a single drainage system.

“New green oasis, towns, villages, districts will emerge in the vast open space of the Karakum desert,” he said. “The development of irrigated agriculture, livestock and fisheries sector will get an additional impetus.”

According to the website, the construction of an extensive collection network in the middle of the Karakum desert started in 2000.

It will collect drainage water from almost all over the country and store it in a giant natural depression called Karashor, it said. Every year, up to 10 billion cubic meters of mineralized drainage water will be collected in Karashor.

“This will dramatically improve ameliorative condition of irrigated lands and make it possible to solve many problems related to salinity, waterlogging of land and drought,” it said. “The total capacity of the reservoir will be 132 billion cubic meters and the water surface area will total 2,000 square kilometers.”

FLOUR MILLING

Turkmengallaonumleri has contracted with Germany’s Unionmatex to supply five new turn-key mills around the country. New mills at Ruhabat and Turkmenabat will each have a milling capacity of 360 tonnes a day and a wheat storage capacity of 100,000 tonnes. The planned new mills at Serdar, Dashoguz and Mary will have a milling capacity of 200 tonnes a day and a wheat storage capacity of 50,000 tonnes.

Turkmenistan has been one of the leading countries in adopting mandatory flour fortification with the help of UNICEF, which maintains an office in the country. The programme started in 1996 when the president of Turkmenistan issued a decree on salt iodization and flour fortification and was backed up in May 2006. The decree stipulated that all wheat flour produced in Turkmenistan should be fortified with iron. Since 2001, Turkmenistan has made steady progress by building new mills and increasing the production of fortified flour.

Between 1996 to 2007, UNICEF assisted the National Bread Association (Turkmengallaonumleri) in procuring flour premix and dosing equipment at UNICEF’s cost as well as training personnel. By 2004, around 85% of all first-grade flour in Turkmenistan was fortified with iron.

In 2006, Turkmenistan adopted new standards on flour fortification in accordance with international requirements. As a result, the quality control system was strengthened and folic acid was added into flour besides iron to further reduce the prevalence of iron-deficiency anaemia in women of child-bearing age.

Since 2008, the Government of Turkmenistan has been fully financing the flour fortification programme by procuring micronutrients through UNICEF. At present, all flour of premium and first-grade produced in Turkmenistan is fortified with iron and folic acid. All of the 20 government-owned mills fortify flour.

All state owned bakeries make bread from fortified flour produced in Turkmenistan, and the imported flour is consumed at a comparatively small scale. The government recommends entrepreneurs to import fortified flour.
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