Skip to main content

Western sanctions on Russia lead to worries of 'starvation, bread riots' in Central Asia

By Vijay Prashad* 

On March 16, 2022, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivered his State of the Nation address in Nur-Sultan. Most of Tokayev’s speech was about the political reforms in Kazakhstan he had either accomplished or planned to advance, after he had promised them as redress to January’s political unrest and protests against the Kazakh government.
He also addressed the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on Kazakhstan during his speech and pointed to the spikes in food prices and currency volatility as some of the worrying economic consequences being faced by the country as a fallout of this conflict.
The address by Tokayev was made four days before the holiday of Nauryz, which fell on March 20 and is a new year festival celebrated by people in the belt that runs from the Kurdish lands to the Kyrgyz lands.
Households across Kazakhstan were preparing for this celebration, although inflation of food prices -- which predated the Russian intervention in Ukraine and the resulting Western sanctions imposed on the Kremlin -- had already dampened the mood of the festivities in the country; by mid-March, the National Bank of Kazakhstan had reported that prices of food products such as baked goods, cereals, vegetables and dairy -- the important components of a Nauryz meal -- had increased by 10 percent.
“Kazakhstan is facing unprecedented financial and economic difficulties in our modern history due to the escalation of the geopolitical situation,” President Tokayev said. The “harsh sanctions” imposed on Russia by the West are already impacting the global economy, he said, adding, “Uncertainty and turbulence in the world markets are growing, and production and trade chains are collapsing.”
Rising food prices and financial turbulence -- a result of both the Western sanctions on Russia and of the integration of national economies -- have set the alarm bells ringing and seem to have heightened the urgency to resolve these issues in Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan.

Famine and hunger

Tokayev spent part of his State of the Nation speech speaking about the inflation of energy and food prices. He spoke about the need for the government to oversee the production of agricultural equipment, fertilizers, fuel and the stocks of seeds. Tokayev’s remarks are not novel.
Other heads of governments in Central Asia have similarly expressed the need for their governments to enter the food production arena, since both the COVID-19 lockdown and the current Russian war in Ukraine have demonstrated the enormous vulnerabilities in the global food chain, exacerbated by the privatization of food production.
Food prices in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) -- comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Russia -- continue to rise, as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, outpacing world food prices. While these countries are “strongly dependent on imports from Russia,” they are now facing a temporary ban on exports of wheat and sugar from Russia owing to the conflict.
On March 11, 2022, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) released a report on the “Food security implications of the Ukraine conflict.” The conflict, says the WFP, “comes at a time of unprecedented humanitarian needs, as a ring of fire circles on the earth with climate shocks, conflict, COVID-19 and rising costs driving millions closer to starvation.”
Russia and Ukraine produce and “supply 30 percent of wheat and 20 percent of maize to global markets,” according to the WFP report, and these two countries also account for three-quarters of the world’s sunflower supply and one-third of the world’s barley supply. Meanwhile, the Black Sea ports have largely been dormant since Russia has blocked any exports from these ports due to the ongoing war.
This has led to “[a]n estimate of 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize” being “frozen in these two countries” since these grains cannot be transported out of the region. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index reached “a new all-time high in February.”
The International Fund for Agricultural Development President Gilbert F. Houngbo warned that the continuation of the Russia-Ukraine war “will be catastrophic for the entire world, particularly for people already struggling to feed their families,” according to a UN report. “This area of the Black Sea plays a major role in the global food system, exporting at least 12 percent of the food calories traded in the world,” Houngbo said.
One of the great problems of globalization has been that the vulnerabilities in one part of the world almost immediately impact other parts of the world. In 2010, droughts in China, Russia and Ukraine raised the price of food grains, which then “heightened” the Arab Spring. 
Ideas of “food security,” a phrase used by Tokayev during his State of the Nation speech, have been around since the first World Food Conference in 1974; at that meeting in Rome, the member states of the United Nations reflected on the famine situation in Bangladesh and called for measures to ensure international stability of food prices and to make governments responsible for the abolition of hunger in their respective countries. 
Covid-19 lockdown and Russian war in Ukraine have demonstrated enormous vulnerabilities in global food chain, exacerbated by privatization
The current situation of food inflation and of food instability in the global commodity chain has refocused attention on the need for ensuring enhanced domestic and regional production rather than placing reliance on distant producers and unstable international markets.

Domestic food production

In October 2021, the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting (CABAR) held an expert meeting on the problem of food production in the region. Nurlan Atakanov of the Food Security and Nutrition Program of the Kyrgyz Republic said that local farmers were unable to grow sufficiently high-quality wheat “due to limited cultivation areas and climatic conditions.”
His country imports a third of its wheat from neighboring Kazakhstan. Daulet Assylbekov, an expert from Kazakhstan who is a senior analyst with the BLM Group, meanwhile, said that wheat harvests in Kazakhstan decreased by 30 percent due to the pandemic restrictions. This has had an impact on food prices within Central Asia.
Tajikistan’s wheat yield is currently 27-30 hundred kilograms per hectare, far short of the yield in Russia’s Rostov region of 67-70 hundred kilograms per hectare, according to CABAR.
Economist Khojimahmad Umarov said during the CABAR meeting that if Tajikistan had access to mineral and organic fertilizers and if it improved its agricultural knowledge, yields could rise to 90 hundred kilograms per hectare. But agriculture has been neglected, and countries like Tajikistan have been encouraged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to import food and export cotton and aluminum.
Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Agriculture has now urged its farmers to increase production of wheat from 6.6 million tons of grain in 2021 to 7.6 million tons this year as well as to enhance the domestic production of sugar to meet the country’s internal demand despite the temporary ban on exports by Russia; Uzbekistan has traditionally relied on Russian wheat and Brazilian sugar.
Meanwhile, like Uzbekistan, the government of the Kyrgyz Republic imports sugar, vegetable oil and wheat each year from other countries, and the current Russia-Ukraine war could result in a bleak situation in terms of ensuring food security and curbing inflation of food prices in the Kyrgyz Republic.
At the start of the war in Ukraine, the poorest households in the Kyrgyz Republic—the second-poorest country in Central Asia after Tajikistan—spent 65 percent of their income on food; the current inflation will be catastrophic for them. The Kyrgyz Republic’s Cabinet of Ministers, led by Akylbek Japarov, held an emergency meeting with food processing companies in Bishkek to discuss how to increase food production and prevent increased levels of starvation in the country.
At the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, leaders of the Central Asian countries called not only for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, but also for regional integration of their countries with South Asia. Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said that his country is eager to play the role of a bridge to unite these areas. The general verdict among countries in Central Asia is that greater self-sufficiency is important -- particularly in food production -- but also that regionalism needs to be emphasized. 
One of the problems with regional integration in Central Asia is that there are very poor options for the transport of goods from one country to the other -- Kazakh wheat travels by train to the Kyrgyz Republic, and then is transferred onto trucks to traverse tough mountain roads. Regionalism is not simply a concept. It had to be realized through the creation of food processing plants, better transport systems and easier cross-border trade rules.
The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine have alerted the governments of Central Asia to pay much more attention to the question of food security. What the IMF says about liberalization of food chains makes little sense these days. 
Worries of starvation and bread riots resulting from the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the ongoing pandemic are a good wake-up call for countries to focus on finding more sustainable local and regional solutions and to solve problems that have been part of the economic, social, and political fabric of Central Asia for decades.
---
*Indian historian, editor and journalist; is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at “Globetrotter”. He is chief editor of LeftWord Books, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. This article was produced by Globetrotter

Comments

TRENDING

'Halt Covid-19 vaccination drive': Indian doctors join campaign across 36 nations

By Rosamma Thomas*  A group of Spanish doctors first got together to call for a halt to the Covid-19 vaccinations, and doctors from other countries too later joined them – there are now over 12,000 doctors from India, Portugal, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Israel and a host of other nations who have issued a call to halt vaccinations. On September 10, a group of Indian doctors came together to address the press over a webinar to explain why they thought the vaccination drive should end forthwith. Dr Amitav Banerjee, who after a career as an epidemiologist in the Indian Army now teaches at a private medical college in Pune, said there was no longer a medical emergency. Children are at low risk of infection, and there is good reason to halt vaccination and conduct proper research, given the high number of adverse events. There is a sudden and poorly explained spike in the number of young and healthy people dying. While it may be impossible to attribute deaths entirely to the vaccinatio

Did Mother Teresa trivialise poverty? 'You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you'

By Harsh Thakor*  The world commemorated the 25th death anniversary of Mother Teresa on September 5. Whatever her flaws, she rendered service to humanity in regions almost untranscended, resembling the relentless spirit of the waves of an ocean. Irrespective of community or religion, she offered her service. Even those not drawn by sainthood revere the role of Mother Teresa. For 68 years, she had worked selflessly and tirelessly in India and elsewhere in the world, taught the destitute, healed the sick, fed and clothed the poor, cared for abandoned children, housed lepers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and offered dignity in death to desolate persons abandoned by family and society. Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910 to an Albanian family as AnjezĂ« Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She became wedded to religious vows at an early age and moved to India to join the missionary work of the Catholic Church. Heartshaken by the misery faced by the Indian masses, in 1950 she set up her own

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".