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Empty shelves and rising prices related to Ukraine crisis push Tunisians to the brink – Global issues


“There are no roads, I have to take a taxi far to buy a kilogram of sugar,” explained a frustrated woman at a market in Kairouan, a town a few hours south of the capital Tunis.

“Price is going up! The poor can no longer afford to pay. It’s like the world is on fire,” another woman explained as she opened her purse to pay for a bag of tomatoes, huddled together on a roadside wooden cart.

Surprise call

Nodding in agreement, the counter owner took her money and made a surprising, if discreet, plea. “Please, make it easier for us to migrate across the sea, so we can leave,” he said.

Although the elderly customer scoffed at the idea – “He wants to drown! It wants to drown! ” – for many young Tunisians, leaving the country in search of work and security is a frequent topic of conversation.

This happens despite the fact that thousands of people have died trying to cross the Central Mediterranean Sea from North African countries to Europe in recent years in unsafe boats and media reports. often reported on another missing person – or a family – at sea.

In Tunis, Tunisia, a local newspaper said that there will soon be domestic delivery.

United Nations News / Daniel Johnson

In Tunis, Tunisia, a local newspaper said that there will soon be domestic delivery.

Migration pressure

“I think what the crisis in Ukraine has caused again, is the difficult choices that people have to make every day, because of the people who were forced to leave their homes, the people who were forced to leave the land. their country, do not take that decision lightly,” said Safa Msehli, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (International Organization for Migration).IOM).

For many Tunisians, sourcing basic staples remains a challenge, even though more than 85,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat have arrived at Tunisian ports in the two months since Black Sea Grains Initiative has begun to act, its Joint Coordination Center in Odesa, said on Thursday.

The agreement has been described as a “lighthouse of hope” of the UN Secretary General António Guterres at the signing ceremony of the Black Sea Grains Initiative on July 27 in Istanbul, with representatives of Russia and Ukraine.

Since August 1, 240 ships have departed from Ukrainian ports with about 5.4 million tons of grain and other food.

Load Dispersion

At a giant factory in the Tunisian capital, there was plenty of flour, as workers stood under conveyor belts transporting a seemingly endless supply of tapioca, packed into large, heavy plastic sacks.

As the bags began to fall, the men took them one by one and loaded them into a large flatbed truck until the bags were full, their faces covered with fine white flour.

The background is industrious, but the factory isn’t nearly as busy as it should be, thanks in no small part to the impact of the Ukraine conflict on the cut in grain exports from the Black Sea, and its role in emphasizing existing economic uncertainty.

Redissi Radhouane, factory manager at La Compagnie Tunisienne de Semoulerie. “When we searched for wheat, we didn’t find anything. Wheat is not as much as it used to be.”

Redissi Radhouane is the principal mill operator at the La Compagnie Tunisienne de Semoulerie flour mill in Tunis, Tunisia.

United Nations News / Daniel Johnson

Redissi Radhouane is the principal mill operator at the La Compagnie Tunisienne de Semoulerie flour mill in Tunis, Tunisia.

‘It’s like hunting without ammo’

At a wholesale store in Mornag, a town on the outskirts of Tunis, customer Samia Zwabi knows all about stock shortages and soaring prices.

She explained to United Nations News that she has to take out a loan or purchase credit for her groceries, assuming she can find them in the first place. Like many parents, the start of the school year is an extra concern.

Half capacity

“We are working at half capacity,” says Samia Zwabi, whose favorite list includes milk, sugar, cooking oils and juices. “When a client comes in, he can’t get all the basics right. The client asked for something that I didn’t have. We have no choice. We need to work to feed our children.”

Recalling that message, wholesaler Walid Khalfawi’s main headache was the lack of cooking oil, as his empty stores showed. Another growing concern is the number of customers paying with credit, he told us, as he waved a thick tangle of handwritten IOUs.

“If a grocer comes here to buy cooking oil and finds it, he automatically buys pasta, tomatoes, casseroles and other products,” said the married father of three. “If he can’t find it, he won’t buy anything… It’s like going into the woods to hunt with your rifle but you don’t have ammo. What can you do?”

Wholesaler Walid Khalfawi speaks to UN News at his local grocery store in Tunis, Tunisia.

United Nations News / Daniel Johnson

Wholesaler Walid Khalfawi speaks to UN News at his local grocery store in Tunis, Tunisia.

The sole breadwinner

From her modest one-story home in Kairouan City, Najwa Selmi helps her family make a traditional bread called “tabouna”, twice in the morning and once in the evening.

The process is time-consuming and labor-intensive, a batch of eight flat rolls takes about 15 minutes to form from semolina, water, yeast and a drop of olive oil.

Once prepared, Najwa coated the surface of the soft rolls and smashed them inside the wood-fired concrete oven outside. She winced in pain as she removed them with her scorched hand, when she was pleased that they were cooked.

The bread is delicious and Najwa has loyal customers, but it’s not easy to get a regular supply of flour, she told us.

Najwa Selmi, at home with her daughter, demonstrates to the UNTV crew how to make traditional 'tabloid' bread.

United Nations News / Ahmed Ellali

Najwa Selmi, at home with her daughter, demonstrates to the UNTV crew how to make traditional ‘tabloid’ bread.

Blues class

She said: “My youngest daughter is going to start school soon and I have yet to buy her anything, no bag, no books, no stationery, no clothes. “If for some reason I have to miss work… or I get sick, we don’t know what the future holds, my family will starve, what will they eat?

“Where will they get the money from? We have no other alternative source of income.”

In Tunis’ bustling Ettadhamen neighborhood, bakery owner Mohamed Lounissi shared about the stresses and challenges of keeping his business afloat, thanks to persistent flour shortages due to the war in Ukraine.

“For us, it’s a big deal, if I order eight tons, they only deliver one ton. They say you need to wait and then when I tell them I can’t work and I can close the door, they say, “Ok, close the door, that’s none of our business!”

Oil

For olive and grain farmer Inès Massoudi, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this February is just the latest in a series of problems beyond her control, occurring five years later. unsuccessful rainy years and 2 years of economic instability caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

In particular, she worries that everything she needs for her 50 hectares of land in Beja is now more expensive – and scarcer – than it was before the war.

Never mind paying to grow more expensive, pesticide-free grain to treat common wheat fungus, plus fertilizer to promote growth – a staple of prewar Russia’s export. competition – Inès’ harvest can be reduced by up to 60%.

“My farm is part of the world and I feel it when something happens outside,” she said of her 50-hectare estate, where olive trees reach out into the distance. blue cloud.

Ahead of the upcoming planting season, “everyone is hesitating,” continued Inès, “because the cost of growing wheat today is about the same as a car, or a new apartment… There is also the crisis. in Ukraine caused grain prices to rise , with which agrochemicals and fertilizers have become very expensive .

Inès Massoudi (back to camera) is a grain farmer and olive grove who owns a 50-hectare estate in Beja, Tunisia.

United Nations News / Daniel Johnson

Inès Massoudi (back to camera) is a grain farmer and olive grove who owns a 50-hectare estate in Beja, Tunisia.

Feeling a little hot

Back in Tunis, in the bustling metropolis of Ettadhamen, baker Mohamed Lounissi accepts that he is struggling. “It was a daily challenge,” he explains:

“There are no goods and raw materials; that’s (all) too little: no flour, no sugar, no oil, nothing at all, with the price increases, the prices go up dramatically, they go up big. “

Standing in front of the sweltering bakery that he worries he might lose his livelihood, unless he can pay off his mortgage, Mohamed admits that the business pressures of the current circumstances are coming his way. “If I don’t get the raw materials, I can’t work and I feel I have a great responsibility to pay the workers.”

In an outdoor barn, Mohamed shows us his meager supply of flour – a pile of small sacks barely knee-high. He carefully locked the door as he left, silently blaming himself for not doing so sooner.

Capturing the precious ingredient “is a big deal,” he said. “If I order eight tons, they only give me one ton. They say you need to wait and then when I tell them I can’t work and I can close the door, they say, “Ok, close the door, that’s none of our business!”

A customer chats with UN News at a bakery in the Tunis neighborhood of Ettadhamen.

United Nations News / Daniel Johnson

A customer chats with UN News at a bakery in the Tunis neighborhood of Ettadhamen.

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