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The rise in food and fuel prices is costing Tunisia heavy losses


Concern is growing in Tunisia about the availability of bread, the staple food for Tunisians, as the country grapples with the economic fallout from a war 1,500 miles away in Ukraine. By blocking most grain and fertilizer exports from the Black Sea, the outbreak of fighting disrupted the economy and life of Tunisia, a country of 12 million people, and sent the prices of basic commodities soaring.

In March, food costs rose 13%, to the highest level since the United Nations began tracking them in 1990. The cost of a basket of goods, including grain, meat and dairy products, is 34% more than it did one year ago. In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden and other world leaders warned of food shortages, especially in the politically fragile states of the Middle East and North Africa.

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Food Program issued a joint appeal last week for “urgent action” to address the looming crisis. They said world leaders should increase crop production in their countries, refrain from hoarding supplies, provide financial aid and emergency food shipments to the poorest countries or risk inflaming “social tensions”.

Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of grain and fertilizer to dozens of countries in Africa and the Middle East, and account for 29% of global wheat exports. In sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia and Benin depend on Russia and Ukraine for almost all of their wheat imports, as do Lebanon, Egypt and Libya, almost.

The impact of the invasion will extend beyond this year’s harvest and into countries outside the developing world. Russia and its ally Belarus provide about a third of the nitrogen fertilizer used by European farmers and more than 22 percent of what is used in American crops, according to the International Institute for Food Policy Research in Washington. Russia and Belarus also produce large quantities of potassium for Brazil, Central Africa and China. Rising food and fertilizer prices this year will push at least 40 million people into extreme poverty, living on the equivalent of $1.90 a day, according to the nonprofit Center for Global Development.

Tunisia is among the most vulnerable, relying on Ukraine and Russia for 56 percent of its annual wheat imports over the past five years, according to an analysis of United Nations data by Joseph Glober, a fellow and researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.

For his part, Youssef Sharif, director of the International Columbia Center in Tunisia, a research branch of Columbia University in New York, said, “There will be a revolution very soon,” explaining, “All the prerequisites are in place, and I do not think that people can endure this situation for long.” ».

Without enough wheat or flour, in bakeries, in Tunisia and elsewhere, bread often runs out in the middle of the day. Tunisians generally eat bread with every meal, and buy bread on a daily basis. They are not accustomed to waiting in long queues, sometimes with more than 100 people, which is now a frequent occurrence.

“Social peace, in Tunisia, is linked to what you get in your stomach,” said Fawzi Al-Zayani, a member of the executive board of the Snagri agricultural organization. “Imagine if there was no bread.” The country also depends on foreign oil producers for nearly half of its needs, so oil prices have doubled dramatically, which contributes to increasing consumer price inflation.

• 56 percent of Tunisia’s annual imports come from Ukraine and Russia.

• Tunisians generally eat bread with every meal and buy bread on a daily basis. They are not accustomed to waiting in long queues, sometimes including more than 100 people, which is now happening frequently.

• The cost of a basket of goods, including grains, meat and dairy products, is 34% more than it was one year ago.