March 30, 2023

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Food shortages amid financial crisis in Tunisia

“Without flour, without sugar, or without butter, we cannot work.” Radia Kamoun, owner of a pastry chain in food-scarce Tunisia, is struggling to supply his factory with raw materials.

“When the shortage started, we started using less sugar and coffee in our pastries, but we can’t do without butter,” said Ms. Kamoun said. People.

To make its cakes, the company typically needs three tonnes of sugar, four tonnes of butter and seven to eight tonnes of flour a week, all products that have become increasingly difficult to obtain in recent months in the financially-hit country. Crisis and political tensions.

Tunisian President Kais Saied has vowed to crack down on “speculators”, who he attributes to the shortage, saying the situation has not improved.

Often, when a product that disappeared reappears on the shelves, the others disappear. In recent days, coffee, milk and sugar are not found in stores or are sold in very low quantities.

The food industry also suffers because the customer doesn’t find it.

“At our level, we can’t do anything, we can’t import sugar, coffee or flour because these are state monopolies,” explains Ms Kamun.

On the other hand, Gourmandise has had to raise its prices twice since the beginning of this year, he underlines, due to the increase in the cost of raw materials.

For weeks, a line of vans has formed every day in front of the Tunisian Beverage Company (SFBT) factory in the suburb of Ben Ares, south of Tunis, which bottles Coca-Cola and Boca in particular. Soda.

Due to insufficient supply of sugar, the factory has been idled and distribution vans have to wait for hours to load boxes of cold drinks.

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The factory, which employs about 600 workers, put dozens on technical unemployment for a few days in August before rehiring them after protests.

“We started realizing this problem at the end of June, because the commercial office didn’t have enough (sugar) for us,” the factory’s union representative explains to AFP Souheil Boukhris.

“We are only hearing promises. It is soon. It is tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, etc. I can tell you that this situation and these promises have been heard since June,” he adds.

Social Affairs Minister Malek Zahi admitted in late August that the country was facing shortages, blaming “disruptions in supply chains and global prices and transport costs” in the context of the war in Ukraine.

But Tunisian economist Moez Hadidane believes the crisis is mainly due to the Tunisian government’s “fiscal problems” and its low foreign exchange reserves.

“The executive’s speech in Tunisia is not objective. He wants to hide the problems by talking about speculation. Obviously, the main problem in Tunisia is not speculation. The big problem is that public funds cannot continue to play a role. A welfare state,” he told AFP.

Much in the same direction, economics professor Reda Shekandali justifies President Syed’s speech, placing the entire responsibility on speculators, as “unsustainable and unfair”. “Speculation will not be possible if the government makes enough basic goods available”.

Tunisia is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan of around two billion dollars to deal with its severe financial crisis, which has worsened since President Said seized full power in July 2021.

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But the powerful UGTT trade union center rejected the reforms demanded by the IMF.

“Will President Syed have the courage to implement them? That is the question,” Hadidane said.