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Soaring prices are putting food out of reach for a growing section of the population in the Kyrgyz Republic in central Asia. Food staples like buckwheat and sorghum have tripled in price since June 2010. Women like Uirukan, a widowed mother of six, say they don’t know how they’ll get by if the prices don’t come down.
BISHKEK—Uirikan, 45, lives in Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan and, last summer, the epicentre of clashes between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities. Since the violence died down, a new threat has arisen in the form skyrocketing grain prices.
“It’s especially hard for me, because I have six children,” said Uirikan, who recently lost her husband. “We are often unable to buy as much food as we need, because the money just isn’t enough."
That’s one reason Uirikan isn’t at the market, where she said that prices had gone up so much that even potatoes have become a luxury item. Instead, she’s come to the site of a food distribution where she receives a food ration of wheat flour, oil and other basic necessities that she’ll need to get through the month.
On the road to the capital, Bishkek, sits the town of Tokmok—home to a once bustling farmer’s market, which has since grown eerily quiet. Tatiana Popova, a pensioner there shopping for her family, said it was because few people could afford anything but the bare essentials.
“It’s a disaster,” she said. “The price of buckwheat has gone up from 50 Kyrgyz Som per kilogram to 125 Kyrgyz Som. That’s nearly three times more than it used to cost. How can we pay? We have to mend the clothes we bought 30 years ago. No one can afford to buy anything anymore.”
Nurgul Isakova is another woman at the market, who says that her family now lives on bread and tea in the morning and a single cooked meal at lunch. “We have done away with meat,” she said. “We used to be able to afford it at least once a month, but now, not at all.”
Landlocked Kyrgyzstan relies heavily on grain imports from Russia and the Ukraine, where crops this summer were decimated by drought and wildfires. Russia subsequently placed on export ban on wheat, pushing prices up in countries like Kyrgyzstan which depend on it for food.
Grain prices in Kyrgyzstan are now the highest in Central Asia, according to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET). That makes it one of the countries hardest hit by the spiking price in global food commodities.
To date, the World Bank Estimates that rising food prices have pushed some 44 million people like Uirikan, Tatiana and Nurgul over the edge into hunger. To help them, WFP is scaling up activities that nutritional support for mothers and small children, as well as “food and cash for work” schemes that provide people with income while they work on project that strengthen their communities.