Turkmenistan: Food shortage reaches Ashgabat

Since the end of February, a new wave of restrictions has limited the amount of basic foodstuff customers can buy at local state-owned grocery stores in Turkmenistan’s capital. The most striking restrictions concern sugar and flour. RFE/RL reported that up to 1 kilogram of flour and 0.5 kilograms of sugar can be purchased at once in Ashgabat. The previous restriction capped purchases at 5 kilograms and 1 kilogram respectively.

Local sources said that the food crisis has now reached the capital.

ATN has received photographic evidence of the increasingly difficult situation in Ashgabat. The picture shows local residents standing in line, waiting to buy food, outside the Hezzetli store, in the 30th district, close to the corner of Magtymguly avenue and Ostrovskiy street. Two dozen or more people line up every morning by the state-owned store. The vendors never have enough Ahal vegetable oil, among the most sought-after products, and cap sales at two liters for each customer, at a price of 5 manats per liter. Those who fail to get their hands on Ahal oil have to settle for locally produced Akpamyk vegetable oil, which costs 1.40 manats less, but its quality is significantly lower. Still, sources said that even Akpamyk is sold in limited quantities and customers have to stand in line for lower quality vegetable oil too. When customers arrive late at the store, it would have run out of vegetable oil and their only alternative would be to go to the bazaar or to private stores, where prices are higher.

While it is easy to find Russian and Iranian vegetable oil in the stores, prices for this kind of imported items are high. By the end of last year, one liter was sold for 10 – 12 manats. Now the cost has increased to 15 manats and more. Local oil sold in private stores can be bought for 8 – 10 manats, a much higher price compared to state-owned stores.

Turkmenistan has suffered an acute food shortage since last autumn. Sources in the provinces have reported of long lines by state-owned owned stores, with customers trying to buy basic foodstuffs, such as flour, bread, sugar and vegetable oil. Sometimes, these crowds grow nervous, which has resulted in altercations and skirmishes. In the north of the country, residents raided a truck carrying bran.

A scarce grain harvest last year and a chronic currency crisis have been the main causes of the current food shortage and price inflation.