World Bulletin/News Desk
Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has fired his agriculture minister and a large number of farming officials after the former Soviet country failed to meet its wheat output target, sending bread prices sharply higher.
Berdymukhamedov, 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 Friday, official media reported on Saturday.
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 tonnes of wheat this year after falling short of a similar target in 2011.
The country's actual wheat crop totaled 1.3 million tonnes in 2011, down 7 percent from 1.4 million in 2010 when it became a wheat exporter for the first time.
Local state-controlled media reported that, with this year's crop nearing completion, the nation has to date harvested just slightly over 1 million tonnes of wheat.
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 on Friday. The state, which regulates the price of the staple, has not made any comment on the increase.
In the capital Ashgabat, a loaf of bread jumped to about 21 U.S. cents, the same as a litre 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 Berdymukhamedov to give its administration a Cadillac limousine as a gift, local media said.
In Soviet days, Turkmenistan produced annually some 70,000 tonnes of wheat and depended almost entirely on wheat deliveries from other Soviet republics. Annual domestic wheat consumption stands at about 1.2 million tonnes.