Afghans hit hard by rising world food prices
By Abdul Saboor
April 23, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) – Already one of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan has been hit hard by the rising price of food and while some Afghans have taken to the streets to protest most wonder how they will get by.
Largely reliant on imports of wheat and flour, Afghanistan has been particularly badly hit as Pakistan, faced with its own food problems, has restricted the flow of flour to its neighbour.
President Hamid Karzai’s government has allocated $50 million to buy food from neighbouring countries, a spokesman said, blaming the rise in world food prices for the increases in Afghanistan.
“We will make sure to have enough food stuff in our markets in order to avoid any humanitarian crises,” said presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.
But many Afghans were unmoved and blamed the government.
“What should we eat? How can a poor man afford to buy food?” asked Kamaluddin Khan out shopping in Kabul on Wednesday. “Mr. Karzai sits in his palace and doesn’t know what is going on.”
In the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Tuesday, some 300 protesters took to the streets over food prices.
BELOW POVERTY LINE
“We are poor people and we can’t afford to buy food,” said Ajab Gul, one of the protesters. “Do we have to start robbing people’s houses?. The government must listen to our concerns, I haven’t received any assistance so far from the government.”
Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries with half its 25 million people living below the poverty line.
Wheat prices in Afghanistan have risen by an average of 60 percent over the last year with certain areas seeing a rise of up to 80 percent, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said, and there was little chance prices would come down.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated Afghanistan’s total wheat import needs in 2007/08 at 550,000 tonnes, including 100,000 tonnes of food aid.
The FAO said it has tentatively estimated Afghanistan’s total output of cereals in 2007 at more than 4.6 million tonnes — above average and well above the relatively poor harvest of 2006 when it came in at 3.9 million tonnes.
Despite the high price of wheat, the profits from planting opium poppies are still much higher, the FAO said, so there is little immediate incentive for farmers to switch crops. Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world’s opium which is processed to make heroin and exported across the world.
(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Peter Millership)