Tunisian President Kais Saied declared war on food speculators on Wednesday, citing a shortage of basic staples such as wheat and semolina in a country already steeped in political and economic turmoil.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has put basic food supplies in jeopardy, particularly wheat, which is primarily imported by several Arab countries from the two eastern European countries.
In a statement released by the presidency, Saied declared a “relentless fight on speculators and criminals,” accusing them of attempting to “strike at social peace and security.”
Saied had previously stated that he was working on legislation that would make food speculation and profiteering punishable by prison sentences.
Over the last few weeks, Tunisia has experienced a severe shortage of staple goods such as rice, semolina, sugar, and flour, with officials often reporting the seizure of unlawfully stockpiled quantities of these foods.
Eight months after Saied claimed exceptional powers, dissolved parliament, and suspended the government, Tunisia is mired in economic and political turmoil.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia poses a threat to Tunisia’s food supplies, as the country imports roughly half of its wheat from Ukraine and relies on foreign countries for much of its food.
The IMF and the North African government began negotiations in February about a possible multibillion-dollar bailout for the country’s crisis-plagued economy.
After earlier expressing worry about Tunisia’s budget shortfalls and, in particular, its public sector wage bill, the lender has urged for “deep reforms” and public spending reduction.