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Lebanon multiplies contacts to escape a wheat crisis

Wheat grains in a factory in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, on March 1, 2022.

Fouad is distraught in his small bakery in mana’ish, popular cooked wheat pancakes most often decorated with thyme or cheese. He has seen his clientele sparse in the Beirut district of Ras El-Nabaa, under the influence of the serious economic and financial crisis which has been raging since 2019. This is reflected in the collapse of purchasing power, against a backdrop of galloping inflation. He now fears that his activity will slow down further with the war in Ukraine, which “makes the situation worse. » Indeed, almost all the common wheat consumed in Lebanon came from Ukraine (80%) and Russia (16%).

Since the beginning of the conflict, “the quantity of wheat flour that can be acquired is limited, because the priority goes to the bakeries that make the bread [plat] Arab [un quota leur a été réservé, d’environ 60 % à 70 % du blé importé]. The rest you have to get on the black market – individuals who sell for more”assures Fouad.

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The statements of the government are intended to be reassuring, but they do not curb the panic. In fact, the flour stalls are empty in the supermarkets. Some wheat importers, on the other hand, adopt a catastrophic tone. Finally, the assessments of current reserves – which do not take into account probable parallel stocks – are fluctuating.

“A hurricane of famines”

“Lebanon has a month and a half of soft wheat reserves”, underlines Georges Berberi, at the head of the general direction of cereals and sugar beet, attached to the ministry of economy and trade. If the whole Middle East is threatened by the rupture of the channels of Ukraine and Russia, Lebanon has its own challenges, including storage, because the silos in Beirut were destroyed during the explosions which occurred at the port, in August 2020. And the melting of the currency reserves of the central bank, which subsidizes wheat imports at a preferential rate (one dollar for 1,500 Lebanese pounds, when this exceeds 24,000 Lebanese pounds on the black market).

The race is on to cover common wheat needs (around 650,000 tonnes per year). One of the priorities is to find supply alternatives. “We have launched contacts with Romania, Moldova [qui exporte déjà vers le pays du Cèdre]Kazakhstan, USA, India », explains Mr. Berberi. Must also “identify new storage locations in Lebanon, or even a country where the purchased wheat could be temporarily deposited”, he explains. This would reduce the impact of a subsequent spike in cereal prices.

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