Countries adapt to growing food crisis
Plus attacks in Nigeria, a summit in Israel, an update from Ethiopia, and more …
Temporary stores have sprung up across Egypt in the past week to sell food at discounted prices ahead of the Islamic month of fasting, or Ramadan, which begins Saturday. The pop-up markets offer up to 30 percent discounts on pasta, cooking oil, and other traditional fasting selections like dried fruits and nuts.
“Prices in Egypt are really high, and the situation is hard for us,” said Mahmoud Farag, a shopper at one of the outlets.
The 8,000 planned markets are one of the latest efforts by Egyptian authorities to ease the pain of rising food prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Countries across Africa and the Middle East are working to ramp up local and alternative import sources as the war disrupts the global wheat supply.
Egypt is the world’s biggest wheat importer and got about 80 percent of its supply from Russia and Ukraine last year. The price of wheat has dropped from its initial surge at the beginning of the war. But several countries still worry about the long-term effects. The war has already delayed the new planting season in Ukraine.
Flour disappeared from the shelves of cash-strapped Lebanon. Hedi Baccour from Tunisia’s union of supermarket owners said daily sales of semolina jumped by 700 percent. Economists in South Africa warned the price of bread and cereal will increase in about three months.
The United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development said the conflict spurred price increases in staple foods, fuels, and fertilizer in some of the poorest nations. Small-scale farmers are already struggling from the pandemic, as well as droughts, cyclones, and other natural disasters. In Somalia, more than 3.5 million people face severe food insecurity.
Egypt has introduced price controls for bread, a major staple in the country. Authorities banned the export of wheat, pasta, and all forms of flour for the next three months and entered discussions with India—the world’s second-largest wheat producer—to import more wheat.
NIGERIA: In another wave of attacks this week, suspected bandits set off explosives along railway tracks from the capital city of Abuja to Kaduna, stranding a moving train. They then opened fire, killing some passengers and sending others fleeing into the surrounding forest before soldiers arrived at the scene. State authorities confirmed 362 people with tickets boarded the train, although earlier reports said about 970 were on board. Samuel Aruwan, the state home affairs commissioner, said authorities recovered eight dead bodies. Dozens remain unaccounted for amid reports that the attackers abducted some of the passengers. The train had become one of the safest routes into Kaduna during increasing bandit attacks along the highway into the state. Earlier on Saturday, suspected bandits also targeted the state’s airport, killing one staff member.
ISRAEL: The foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, and Bahrain met this week with their Israeli counterpart and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the first-of-its-kind Negev summit. The historic two-day meeting in Israel’s southern Negev Desert centered on economic cooperation and Iran’s nuclear threats. The ministers committed to making the summit a regular event.
MEXICO: President Andrés Manuel López Obrador this week said the presidential jet, a Boeing 787, will be available for people to rent for weddings or other in-flight parties. López Obrador has tried to sell his predecessor’s jet for nearly four years but faced difficulty since it is so customized. The president said the rental fees would pay for the plane’s expenses and maintenance.
HONG KONG: Britain withdrew its last two judges from Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal this week, saying their presence could be seen as an endorsement of the ongoing crackdown on political freedom in the territory. British judges have sat on the court since 1997, when the United Kingdom returned the territory to China.
ETHIOPIA: Rebel forces in the restive Tigray region last week agreed to an “indefinite humanitarian truce” with the government to allow aid to reach civilians in dire need. The Tigray war that began in November 2020 has killed thousands of people and displaced millions. Many have welcomed the truce but remain wary over how long it will last.
NORTH KOREA: A human rights investigative group identified 597 perpetrators linked to more than 5,000 human rights violations against 784 detainees across facilities in North Korea. The Korea Future group launched the North Korean Prison Database this week, chronicling reports of torture, rape, and forced abortions.
JAPAN: On a lighter note, I’ve enjoyed photos of cherry blossoms across Japan that began blooming last week. Thousands of people have gathered to view the colorful trees, a practice known as hanami. You can look through some of the photos here.
Nigeria’s food sector is also feeling the pinch from the Russian invasion. My mom, who runs a bakery in Abuja, said the price of flour has shot up. Her supplier called last week and told her to pick up an extra bag soon, since her own stock was running low and she wasn’t sure if she could get a fresh supply.
At an annual food processors forum in March, Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote of the Dangote Group said the prices of fertilizer, maize, and wheat have already increased. He warned the country could face a food crisis in the coming months.
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