Business & Economy

North Africa feels price pinch during holy month

Rabat/Algiers, Apr 8 (EFE).- As the Muslim world observed the first week of the holy month of Ramadan, families in northern Africa were facing food shortages and extortionate prices for basic goods due to the war raging in Ukraine.

In Algeria there is a shortage of semolina, tomatoes are selling at double their usual price in Morocco and flour rationing has been rolled out in Tunisia.

“There is a vulnerability in terms of the most consumed products. A large part is imported and of great need, such as milk, oil and wheat,” Algerian economist, Mahfud Kaubi, tells Efe.

Traditional Algerian bread or Morocco’s warming “harira” tomato soup which families prepare for “iftar” — the evening meal Muslims enjoy at sunset to break the fast — have this year become luxury products.

Over 40% of Algeria and Libya’s wheat exports are from Ukraine. Tunisia sources 50% of its wheat from Ukraine and Morocco imports a quarter of its wheat from the war-torn nation.

“This month of Ramadan we are beginning to see a disruption in supply chains,” adds Kaubi.

The economist says “pessimistic” indicators suggest the trend will likely continue this year with the hope of a recovery in 2023.

Traditional bread made from semolina is a must on Ramadan dinner tables in Algeria, but the staple has become an expensive food this year with prices soaring in Africa’s second-largest consumer of wheat.

In a supermarket in Bab Ezzouar, some 15 kilometers east of Algiers, shelves are empty of semolina. In a wholesale store, Efe witnessed a shopper snap up the shop’s last five kilograms.

On March 13, the Algerian government froze the export of products containing wheat, and the Ministry of Agriculture assured the nation that stocks for this year were guaranteed based on national production and stock of previous imports.

In neighboring Morocco, the price of diesel, the preferred fuel for many families and truckers, has outstripped petrol for the first time triggering a spike in the prices of many products.

Tomatoes, an essential ingredient for “harira”, have more than doubled in price.

The government has introduced wheat subsidies aimed at canceling export tariffs and has awarded 82 dirhams ($8.41) for every 100 imported kilos.

To make things worse, the central bank’s forecast of a sharp rise in inflation to a record 4.7% in 2022 adds to other pressing issues, including the nation’s worst drought in 40 years, according to Morocco’s water minister.

Once known as “Rome’s granary”, Tunisia currently imports 48% of its wheat from Ukraine, which is mainly used to make bread. During Ramadan, bread consumption increases by 135% compared to the rest of the year.

In late 2021, several vessels loaded with wheat were never offloaded after the government was unable to pay suppliers in cash.

During the holy month, signs in shops instruct buyers on limits on purchases of sugar, rice, semolina, flour and vegetable oil, to ensure provisions are distributed fairly.

President Kais Saied has blamed speculators who are hoarding food for the crisis and has introduced a new law that pledges to punish the “criminal” monopoly that threatens peace and social security.

Ramadan in Libya has so far been marked by political uncertainty, delays in wage payments and soaring prices, especially for flour and milk.

Around 43% of Libya’s wheat comes from Ukraine as well as powdered milk and vegetable oils.

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