People shop at a supermarket in Ankara, Turkey on March 7, 2022. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

*Over the past few weeks, several Middle Eastern countries have seen rising grain, oil and meat prices, especially countries heavily dependent on imports from Ukraine and Russia.

* In economically challenged countries like Lebanon and Yemen, higher costs will make staple foods less accessible to those most in need.

*Some countries have adopted policies to control rising costs.

by Xinhua Writers Li Rui, Tian Ye

CAIRO, March 22 (Xinhua) — Policymakers in some non-oil-exporting Middle Eastern countries are rushing to curb soaring food prices after their primary food supply chain was disrupted by conflict Russian-Ukrainian, which exacerbated the inflation of staple foods which had already increased steadily even before the crisis.

Policies such as diversifying food imports, increasing food subsidies and reducing food taxes have been pursued by these countries, which are heavily dependent on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine and have limited financial resources to meet. to rising food prices.

Some countries have also decided to strengthen their food stocks and seek policy adjustments to reduce their heavy dependence on food imports, as food security is essential to maintaining social stability in the unstable Middle East.

RISE IN FOOD PRICES

In recent weeks, several countries in the Middle East have seen rising grain, oil and meat prices, especially countries heavily dependent on imports from Ukraine and Russia, which continue to fight and tough negotiations.

A man checks sunflower oil prices at a supermarket in Istanbul, Turkey, March 7, 2022. (Xinhua/Shadati)

Turkey now pays US$346 to import a ton of wheat, down from US$297 in 2021 after the country’s supply chain was affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and US$230 in 2020, according to statistics released by Turkish media.

In Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, the market price for a ton of flour rose to 11,000 Egyptian pounds (nearly 700 dollars) in March, against 9,000 pounds a month earlier, said Attia Hammad, head of the Bakeries division in Cairo. Chamber of Commerce.

In Palestine, the prices of flour, vegetables, chicken and sugar have risen considerably.

“The Russian-Ukrainian conflict will impact the global grain market, as Russia and Ukraine account for around 30% of global grain exports,” said Waleed Gaballah, professor of financial and economic jurisdictions at the University of Cairo.

The impact on the Middle Eastern food market is particularly visible in countries that rely heavily on Russia and Ukraine for their imports. In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, the price of a 5-litre bottle of cooking oil rose 35% in three days to reach 200 Turkish liras (nearly $14) on March 7. With a self-sufficiency rate of 64% in sunflower oil. , Turkey meets the rest of its cooking oil needs through imports, largely from Russia and Ukraine.

Turkish consumers have flocked to grocery stores and supermarkets to empty shelves, due to rising cooking oil prices and fears of shortages.

AGGRAVATED FOOD SHORTAGE

In economically challenged countries like Lebanon and Yemen, rising costs will make staple foods less accessible to those most in need.

The owner of a wheat and grain warehouse displays Ukrainian wheat in Hasbaya, southern Lebanon, February 28, 2022. (Photo by Taher Abu Hamdan/Xinhua)

The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine will further complicate Lebanon’s food supply chain, as the country is already suffering from a financial crisis and a severe shortage of foreign currency needed to import basic items and food products, said Ahmad Hoteit, a representative of the Lebanese Wheat Company. importers.

“Lebanon could face a shortage of wheat in the future,” he warned.

In Yemen, rising food prices, aggravated by the conflict, could aggravate the country’s humanitarian crisis, according to the World Food Program (WFP).

Imports from Ukraine accounted for 31 percent of wheat arriving in Yemen in the past three months, with prices seven times higher than in 2015, bringing the cost of WFP operations in the country to 10 million dollars per month.

The WFP has been forced to cut rations in order to feed those most in need, it said in a March 14 statement.

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict “deals a new blow to Yemen, further driving up food and fuel prices”, the statement said, and “the country – already beset by years of conflict, the effects of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic — almost entirely dependent on food imports.”

Russia and Ukraine are the two main sources of wheat imports for the Middle East. Egypt and Tunisia, for example, import 80% and half of their wheat respectively from the two countries.

TAX CUTS, SUBSIDIES, POLITICAL REFORMS

Cristian-Dan Tataru, a visiting analyst for the Washington-based Middle East Institute, believes food prices have reached levels comparable to those before the 2011 political unrest in the Arab world.

Oil prices are seen on digital screens at a gas station in Ankara, Turkey, March 7, 2022. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

Some countries have adopted policies to control rising costs.

Turkey has reduced the value added tax on basic groceries from 8% to 1%.

Israel last month announced a NIS 4 billion (about $1.25 billion) plan to offset the impact of recent spikes in commodity prices, including food.

Egypt, in an attempt to hold back food reserves, has encouraged farmers to increase wheat deliveries to the government by raising this year’s purchase price and starting the wheat supply season earlier than in habit.

In addition, the country has restricted the export of wheat, beans, lentils, pasta and all types of flour for the next three months to provide essential foodstuffs to millions of Egyptians at lower prices. to those in the market through its subsidy rationing system.

More importantly, analysts say, some countries have begun to make significant policy reforms to address fundamental problems in their agricultural sectors, as tax cuts and subsidies are only short-term solutions.

Egypt, for example, has announced that it is diversifying its sources of wheat imports from several countries, including the United States, Argentina, Canada and Paraguay, and placing greater emphasis on programs agriculture, encouraging farmers to expand their cultivated land and promoting practices to boost domestic food production.

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