Kazakhstan's decision to ban wheat exports is really bad news for the country’s poorer Central Asian neighbors, which get some 90 percent of their wheat imports from their northern neighbor, says an article posted on Radio Liberty’s website on April 14.

Central Asian Neighbors to Feel the Pain as Kazakhstan Suspends Wheat, Flour Exports says Kazakhstan also imports relatively inexpensive wheat from Russia to use domestically and to resell to other countries.

But Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, temporarily banned grain exports to its fellow members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Armenia -- in March.

The Kazakh Agriculture Ministry now says it will limit wheat and flour exports to 1 million tons and 300,000 tons, respectively, for three months starting on April 15. It’s not clear if the restrictions will be extended beyond that date.

The Russian government said it was suspending wheat, rye, barley, and maize exports until June 30 to “protect the domestic food market in the face of external constraints” amid harsh Western sanctions. 

Moscow’s decision means that Kazakhstan -- the largest buyer of Russian wheat in the EAEU -- has temporarily lost access to relatively affordable agricultural products it got duty free.

Just two or three weeks later, Kazakhstan’s flour-milling companies began to raise alarms that they were running out of supplies and going out of business. The Union of Grain Processors of Kazakhstan urged the government to halt exports.

It led the country’s Agriculture Ministry to limit exports to address the grain “deficit” in Kazakhstan created by Moscow’s export ban, officials said.

It also comes at a time when prices for wheat and other food products have reportedly risen to record highs globally because of the war in Ukraine, which is also a major producer of wheat and corn.

According to the article, Tajikistan annually buys nearly 1 million tons of wheat from Kazakhstan, which accounts for up to 94 percent of Tajikistan’s grain imports.

The article notes that the immediate impact of Kazakhstan’s decision on Tajikistan hasn’t been immediately known, but if Kazakhstan prolongs the curbs beyond June, Tajikistan will face severe food shortages.

Bread is the most important staple in Tajikistan, where some families say they only have “bread, tea, and sugar for breakfast.”

The government said it was working out a crisis-management plan to prevent any unwarranted price hike for food products and to support the most vulnerable, but details of the plan haven't been made public.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon urged people on April 1 to stock up on food, noting that “humanity is facing an extremely difficult year, especially in terms of food security.”

Rahmon called on Tajiks to work hard to have a good harvest and to store up to “two years’ worth of food.” 

Neighboring Uzbekistan, the most-populous country in Central Asia with about 34 million inhabitants, is reportedly the largest buyer of Kazakh grains.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Uzbekistan imports about 35 percent of its domestic consumption needs of wheat, mostly from Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s curb on exports coincided with Uzbekistan’s plan to buy 600,000 tons of grain from abroad -- mostly from Kazakhstan -- to ensure domestic food security.

That includes a planned purchase of 100,000 tons of wheat from its northern neighbor between April and July, Tashkent said on April 4.

Uzbekistan’s own wheat production is expected to decline in the 2021-22 market year, which ends on June 30. The output is estimated to be around 5.5 million tons, down from 6.2 million the previous year.

Turkmenistan imported US$15.1 million worth of wheat in 2020, mainly from Kazakhstan with US$12 million. 

Kyrgyzstan, a member of the EEU, gets about 40 percent of its imported wheat from Kazakhstan. Bishkek’s main grain supplier is Russia.