Kazakhstan set to lose quarter of grain crop as drought hammers Eurasia

Kazakhstan set to lose quarter of grain crop as drought hammers Eurasia
Months-long droughts have taken heavy tolls on crops across Eurasia. / Pushkarv CC-BY-SA 3.0
By Kanat Shaku in Almaty & Akin Nazli in Belgrade, Will Conroy in Prague August 19, 2021

Kazakhstan expects its 2021 grain crop to contract by 24% to 15.3mn tonnes amid the major drought across much of Eurasia that has hit main grain producing regions.

Acting Agriculture Minister Yerbol Karashokeyev announced the bad news at a government meeting on August 18.

Months-long dry and hot weather—described by many as the worst in living memory—has this year seriously undermined Kazakhstan, the top grain producer in Central Asia. Earlier this month, The Washington Post and other international newspapers ran photographs of some of the thousands of dead horses strewn across arid steppes. The horses perished without food or water.

Kazakhstan is far from alone in struggling with the agricultural impact on Eurasia of the deadly heatwave. Iran, which has lately faced social unrest after inhabitants in its southwest were left struggling to access water, last week conceded that its wheat harvest this year would be so inadequate that for the first time in five years the country would have to import wheat. Armenia is struggling with food prices at a generational high partly given the effects of drought on agricultural output, while drought-hit Turkey has opened a new barley import tender after the previous tender was cancelled because of high prices. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), meanwhile, has further cut its 2021/22 wheat production estimate for Turkey to 16.5mn tonnes, down from the 17mn tonnes forecast in July, 17.25mn tonnes in May and 18.25mn tonnes in 2020/21.

In Kazakhstan, there is some relief among officials that high stocks and imports from Russia are set to support Kazakhstan’s grain supplies in the 2021/22 season, which started on July 1. Kazakhstan ships grain to neighbouring Central Asian nations along with Iran, Afghanistan and Black Sea ports.

"Due to the abnormal soil and atmospheric drought, the condition of grain sowings has deteriorated significantly this year," Kazakh agriculture minister Karashokeyev said. He also noted that Kazakh grain stocks currently stood at 3.5mn tonnes, including 2.8mn tonnes of wheat.

Karashokeyev's predecessor was fired in July after Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the agriculture ministry had failed to tackle the impact of the drought.

The country has so far harvested 1.5mn tonnes of grain from 9.9% of its producing area with the most active phase of the harvesting expected to kick off in the coming days.

Kazakhstan is expected to export 6.5mn-7mn tonnes of grain, including flour, this season, according to Prime Minister Askar Mamin.

The country has exported around 8mn tonnes in the 2020/21 season.