Middle East battles to curb surging food prices -

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Middle East battles to curb surging food prices - World Palestinians work in a traditional bakery in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Monday.SAID KHATIB/AFP

CAIRO-Policymakers in some Middle Eastern countries lacking large oil reserves are racing to bring down surging food costs as their primary food supply chain is disrupted by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The conflict has exacerbated inflation affecting staple foods that began well before the crisis.

Policies including diversifying food imports, increasing food subsidies and lowering food taxes have been pursued by these countries, which rely heavily on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine and, in many cases, have limited financial resources to respond to rising food costs.

Some countries haadding that tourism contributed 12ve also moved to shore up their food stocks and seek policy adjustments to cut their heavy reliance on food imports, as food security is vital to maintaining social stability in the volatile Middle East.

Over the past few weeks, several Middle Eastern countries have seen cereal, oil and meat prices climb, especially in those nations highly dependent on imports from Ukraine and Russia, which are still fighting and engaging in tough negotiations.

Turkey now pays $346 for importing a metric ton of wheat, up from $297 in 2021 when the country's supply chain was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to statistics published by Turkish media. The price had climbed from $230 in 2020.

Sharp increase

In Egypt, the world's largest wheat importer, the market price of a ton of flour increased to 11,000 Egyptian pounds ($700) in March, up from 9,000 pounds a month earlier, said Attia Hammad, head of the bakeries division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.

In Palestine, prices for flour, vegetables, chicken and sugar have risen significantly.

"The Russia-Ukraine conflict will have an impact on the global grain market, because Russia and Ukraine account for about 30 percent of global grain exports," said Waleed Gaballah, a professor of financial and economic jurisdictions at Cairo University.

The impact on the Middle East food market is particularly noticeable in nations that rely largely on Russia and Ukraine for imports. In Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, the price for a bottle of 5-liter cooking oil had increased by 35 percent to 200 Turkish liras ($14) over the three days to March 7. With a 64 percent self-sufficiency rate in sunflower oil, Turkey has traditionally met the rest of its cooking oil need by imports, largely from Russia and Ukraine.

Consumers in Turkey have flocked to grocery stores and supermarkets to empty shelves, due to the rising price of cooking oil and a fear of scarcity.

In poorer countries like Lebanon and Yemen, higher costs will make staple food less accessible to the neediest.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict will further complicate Lebanon's food supply chain, as the country suffers a financial crisis and contends with a severe shortage of foreign currency needed to import basic items and food products, said Ahmad Hoteit, a representative of Lebanon's wheat imponear the Baltic sea port of Rostockrters.

Russia and Ukraine are the two major sources of wheat imports for the Middle East. Egypt and Tunisia import 80 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of their wheat from the two countries.


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