Seasonal business

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Cabbage1_2People (i.e. me) who either do not regularly food shop or if they do, they do so in Western supermarkets have long forgotten the seasons. Living in Dushanbe is a good way to refresh your agri-business knowledge, especially after a visit at the Zelyony Bazaar (Green Market, a must in any Central Asian city).

A pumpkin in the summer? Impossible to find … and you realize (after the merchants laugh at you) that maybe the fall is a better season! What about a lemon in August? You can get away with it, provided you are ok with spending $1 (in a country where the average monthly salary is about $40). For the same price in the summer you can get 2 kilos of great peaches or grapes or 3 kilos of tomatoes.

Sad news comes with the winter. You finally get your long-awaited pumpkin, but the prices fluctuate (i.e. increase), the market rarefies (i.e. empty spaces abound) and a salad - cabbage aside - is quite a hard catch. Yes, in Tajikistan, there is no refrigeration of fruit and vegetables and the imports are very limited, so you have to adjust your tastes to what the fresh market can offer, or turn to the preserved products.

And here comes another interesting fact.

If you do shop for basic processed foods such as milk or canned tomatoes, you suddenly realize there's a "missing market", as economists would call it.

In a country with significant agricultural production, most dairy products sold in the local supermarkets come from Russia, Ukraine or the neighboring Kyrgyz Republic. Canned tomatoes come from Iran. You wonder why in a country with great tomatoes and cows.  Well, mid-size businesses, such as tomato or milk processing factories, are struggling to reach the viable size and required quality standards. The reasons are various. 

First, the lack of funding from investors and financial institutions constrains the technology upgrades needed to bring the production up to the world standards.

Second, setting up well-organized supply chains is difficult.

Finally, the regulatory environment for business is unfriendly. To start a business you have to go through a complicated and expensive business registration procedure, after which you need to obtain a license often followed by an additional set of permits and certifications. After that you face a host of inspections by different regulatory bodies, including very frequent ones from the tax authorities. The entire process is extremely complicated, time consuming, and expensive, and creates a disincentive for entrepreneurs to enter the market.

All of us hope this situation will improve and we are actually working on it. If things improve and a new local agribusiness sector develops, this country could substitute expensive imports with local products. This will benefit everybody: the consumers, who will enjoy cheaper products, the businesses who will grow their profits creating new jobs, and the government which will enjoy higher tax revenues.



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