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Uzbekistan: Prices for Staple Goods Rising Sharply

Prices for some staple food items in Uzbekistan have increased sharply this week, forcing the government to scramble into action, albeit not very effectively.

By the second half of this week, the per kilo cost of beef and mutton had risen by up to 5,000 Uzbek sum ($0.50) in the markets of Tashkent and in the Ferghana Valley. On May 15, butchers were selling beef at around 25,000 sum ($3) per kilo and mutton at 28,000 sum ($3.50), but those prices had risen to 28,000 sum and 32,000 sum respectively by May 18.

The prices are even higher in the supermarkets. A journalist in the Ferghana Valley told EurasiaNet.org that at the start of the week, minced beef was selling for just over $4 per kilo, but that the cost has now reached almost $4.90.

At a May 17 conference call with regional officials, Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov urged remedial action. 

“The prime minister called on regional chiefs not to allow any more price rises for meat,” a journalist based in the Ferghana region, who was able to follow the government meeting directly, told EurasiaNet.org. “Administrative employees at all levels will have to go to the markets and run checks on the suppliers and retailers of meat.”

Attempts to force sellers of meat to keep their prices artificially low and out of sync with the rising costs imposed by suppliers, however, are not going down well. 

Behzod Muradkulov, a beef supplier at Chorsu market in Tashkent, explained that the price for mutton and beef was rising as a knock-on effect of animal feed becoming more expensive.

“Supplies of fodder have run out. Compound feed is now selling for 2,000 sum ($0.25) per kilo, but it was 1,500 sum before. Prices will not be going down because everything is getting more expensive in the market, be it vegetables or fruit. Any attempts by the city government to keep the prices down will be unsuccessful. They tried the same thing two years ago, but the prices still didn’t go down,” Muradkulov told EurasiaNet.org.

Compound feed refers to a type of animal feed that is more processed than simple fodder and can comprise a blend of vegetable and inorganic content, possibly mixed in with additives.

Meat is the single most sought-after staple item of grocery in the Uzbek household, which makes the ongoing price rise a particularly sensitive matter. With minimum monthly salaries as low as a few dozens dollars, even the slightest fluctuation can have a serious impact.

Uzbekistan does not collate public data on a notional “basket of goods,” as is commonplace across the world, because the practise was explicitly forbidden by the late President Islam Karimov. Evaluating the extent of price rises is accordingly tricky and necessarily reliant on anecdotal evidence.

In addition to the rising cost of meat, consumers are also finding another basic staple, potatoes, is getting more expensive. A kilo now costs anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 sum ($0.60-$1) — an unprecedentedly high level.
This past year was a bad one for the potato harvest in Uzbekistan, which has forced suppliers to import potatoes from Belarus and Russia.

And despite a very slight apparent easing on the limitations previously imposed on the media, no local outlets are reporting on the situation, a sure indication that the issue is considered taboo and that authorities are unsure how to handle it.