Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Cutting food prices to avoid more protests in the Middle East

Some of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are seeing protesters are making efforts to decrease food prices. Lack of economic opportunity and the high cost of food is foremost on the protesters minds when they hit the streets.

From Reuters Alert Net, writers Asma Al Sharif and Martin Dokoupil explain some of the steps and if they have worked.

Food costs are among the grievances of demonstrators around the region as global food prices hit record highs in December, above levels that prompted riots in 2008, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which warned prices of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar are set to climb.

Arab attention is keenly focused on Egypt, as wheat prices, already up on supply shortages caused by drought in Russia and floods in Australia, continue to climb to multiyear highs on futures markets closely watching unrest in the region.

"The government has to take care, monitor prices and improve salaries so that they avoid what happened in Tunisia and spread to Algeria and Cairo," said Raeda al-Farooki, a mother of four, at a large supermarket in Saudi Arabia's port city of Jeddah.

"Onions were about 5 riyals ($1.3) per kilo two years ago and now are around 10. Imported food is even more expensive, but the worst part is that there is no increase in salaries," said Farooki, who lives on six thousand riyals ($1,600) per month.

Algeria, Libya and Jordan have either relaxed food taxes or duties on food imports or cut prices of staple food, and Kuwait recently introduced a generous stipend and free food for its citizens until March 2012 to ease the pain of higher costs.

There is also simmering unrest in Yemen, the poorest Arab country, where 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day.

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