Everyday at dawn, Khaldoun Ben Amo, 63, heads to the neighborhood’s bakery to buy bread, to avoid the long queues that start to form in the early morning hours – a scene that is now common in Tunis.
Najia Khalafallah, 56, who lives in a village with one bakery, told Reuters that after 10 am she could not find a single loaf of bread, noting that residents were now registering their names and the number of required loaves of bread, which are not allowed to exceed five per family.
Such sad scenes are seen daily in all governorates of Tunisia. Everyday people stand in long queues in front of bakeries to get their bread.
Bread is a staple food product in Tunisian diet. The rate of consumption of bread per capita reaches 70 kilograms annually, and increases significantly during the month of Ramadan, according to official data from the Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies.
The bread crisis in Tunisia fuels citizens’ fears about the existence of real threats affecting their food security, especially in light of the shortage of a number of basic foodstuffs, such as sugar, flour, rice and coffee, in addition to the milk crisis that emerged months ago.
President Kais Saeed accused “lobbyists and parties,” whom he did not name, of fabricating the crisis, calling on the Ministry of Agriculture, the Grain Board and all departments to “confront monopolists and those who tamper with the food security of Tunisians.”
“The aim of these successive crises is to fuel society for clear political ends,” he said, pointing to weak economic control, price hikes and the deterioration of the purchasing power.
Reports by the Tunisian Institute of Consumer indicate that about 900,000 pieces of bread are wasted yearly, at the cost of 100 million dinars ($33 million).
In conjunction with Saeed’s statements, the Ministry of Commerce decided to stop supplying unlicensed bakeries with subsidized flour, which sparked the owners’ anger.
According to the Association for the Fight Against the Rentier Economy in Tunisia (ALERT), the bread crisis lies in structural problems, summarized in the level of local grain production, and the distribution of rations from mills to bakeries.
The association said that even in the best climatic conditions, local production was not able to cover the annual needs of grains, due to the neglect of the agricultural sector, especially main crops.
The Ministry of Agriculture had announced that the country’s wheat crop fell this year by 60 percent to 250,000 tons due to drought, increasing the country’s financial difficulties, at a time when the government is trying to obtain an international rescue package.