ASHGABAT - Reuters
Gurbanguly fires the agriculture minister after he failed to reach targets. EPA photo
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has fired his agriculture minister and a large number of farming officials after the country failed to meet its wheat output target, sending bread prices sharply higher.
Berdimuhamedov, who enjoys a rising personality cult in the central Asian nation of 5.5 million, sacked Agriculture Minister Merdan Bairamov “for grave dereliction of his duties” during a government meeting late on July 6. A large number of lower-ranking local agriculture officials has also been sacked nationwide.
Turkmenistan, the most arid of the 15 former Soviet republics with most of its territory lying in the Kara Kum desert, had originally planned to harvest 1.6 million tons of wheat this year after falling short of a similar target in 2011. The country’s actual wheat crop totaled 1.3 million tons in 2011, down 7 percent from 1.4 million in 2010 when it became a wheat exporter for the first time.
Turkmenistan’s High Control Chamber, which reviews the work of various ministries, said much of this year’s harvest had not been properly stored and was just “lying under the sky.” News of a bad crop coincided with a three-fold rise in bread prices in local shops. In the capital Ashgabat, a loaf of bread jumped to about 21 U.S. cents, the same as a liter of gasoline in the energy-rich country which holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves and owns ample reserves of crude. Only one of Turkmenistan’s five regions has met its harvest target, leading Berdimuhamedov to give its administration a Cadillac limousine as a gift, local media said.