‘Prices pandemic’ takes shine off Jordan’s first Ramadan free of COVID-19 restrictions in two years

Women work at a dates packaging workshop in Balqaa, Jordan. Price rise of basic commodities has made it difficult for most Jordanians to observe Ramadan this year. (Reuters)

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Updated 15 April 2022

RAED OMARI

April 15, 2022

  • While the Jordanian government has vowed to implement measures such as price ceilings to ensure that basic food items remain available and affordable, citizens have nonetheless complained of sharp increases in the costs of staples such as oil and fruit

AMMAN: The joy among Jordanians celebrating their first Ramadan for two years free of pandemic-related restrictions has been tempered by concerns about rising food prices.

While the Jordanian government has vowed to implement measures such as price ceilings to ensure that basic food items remain available and affordable, citizens have nonetheless complained of sharp increases in the costs of staples such as oil, fruit, vegetables and meat.

“All talk about food availability and affordability is nonsense,” said Falah Al-Louzi, who was buying fruit and vegetables at a shop in Amman.

Pointing out the prices on the tags of displayed produce, Al-Louzi added: “It shouldn’t be the case that a small salad bowl costs 5 Jordanian dinars ($7) in a country that exports vegetables and fruit.”

Mother-of-four Fidaa Simrin expressed similar sentiments and criticized politicians for failing to keep their promises to limit price increases.

“They (ministers) have been vowing on TV to protect citizens and keep prices affordable but you go to the market and see find the exact opposite,” she said.

Lamenting the fact that the high prices are taking the shine off the Ramadan celebrations, Simrin added: “So for the past two years we had COVID-19 and this year we are plagued with price hikes … it’s a ‘prices pandemic.’”

Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh recently responded to criticisms of rising prices by pointing out that the cost of basic food items, especially wheat, barley and vegetable oils, are rising all over the world as a result of the war in Ukraine and other ongoing disruptions to global supply chains.

He added that the government took action in March and April to stabilize fuel prices out of an “understanding of citizens’ living conditions,” even though the move has deprived the treasury of 80 million dinars in revenue.

The premier also said that the prices of basic food items in Jordan, wheat in particular, are still “less than in neighboring countries.” He cited as reasons for this the government subsidies and market  monitoring measures, along with food security strategies such as the establishment of horizontal bunker silos for grain storage.

Faisal Shboul, the minister of state for media affairs said the price increases are “normal during Ramadan, which sees high demand of basic food items.” In addition, he added, “exceptional” weather conditions during March had affected agricultural production.

Jordanian farmers reported significant damage to crops as a result of frost last month, which meteorologists described as the coldest March in decades.

In addition, the Jordan Valley Farmers Union recently warned that prices of agricultural supplies have soared recently by as much as 400 percent which, “coupled with frosty weather conditions,” has reduced supplies of produce to local markets.

The union said that accumulated debts among farmers and hikes in the prices of agricultural materials are affecting the ability of farmers to work their land, and called on the government to remove the price ceilings it has imposed some produce during Ramadan.

The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Supply has said that the war between Russia and Ukraine is having no immediate effect on Jordan’s wheat imports. Ministry spokesperson Yanal Barmawi told Arab News that 90 percent of annual wheat imports come from Romania, and that no wheat was imported from Russia during 2021 or 2022 because of export taxes levied by Russian authorities on wheat, barley and corn.

He added that Jordan did not import any wheat or barley from Ukraine during the first three months of this year, and that wheat imports from Ukraine in 2021 did not exceed 10 percent of total wheat imports. Jordan imports barley from Australia, France, Germany, Romania and Argentina, Barmawi said.

Ukraine and Russia are the two largest global exporters of sunflower oil. As a result of the war between the countries, Nael Kabariti, chairman of the Jordan Chamber of Commerce, said that traders in Jordan have turned to suppliers in Malaysia and Indonesia as sources for the oil.

source https://www.arabnews.com/node/2063576/middle-east

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