Jordan will avoid food shortages but not higher prices, says government

A stagnating economy and turmoil elsewhere have caused the cost of many staples to rise

Fruit and vegetable prices in Jordan have risen by about a third this year, according to some estimates. AFP
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Jordanian authorities have assured consumers that the kingdom has enough food, but cautioned that it will not be possible to completely insulate the country from global trends driving up costs.

Jordan, one of the biggest recipients of US aid, has remained stable in the past decade as economic and political upheaval hit other parts of the region.

It has weathered previous global economic shocks, including fuel and wheat price surges before the 2008 financial crisis.

But high prices since the pandemic — driven up further by the war in Ukraine in the past two months — have affected most of the country’s 10 million population.

Prices of most fuels and foods have risen sharply. Subsidies on home electricity were also lifted last month, while some staples — mainly wheat — remained subsidised and their prices have not changed.

Average salaries are $650 a month, which ranks Jordan as a middle income country. Unemployment, however, has been officially at a record high of 23 to 24 per cent for the past two years and the economy is officially not expected to grow beyond the 2 per cent rate achieved last year.

Anwar Al Ajarmeh, head of the state-owned Jordanian General Company for Silos and Supply, told state television late on Monday that stocks of wheat — mostly imported from Romania — are enough to last for eight months, while barley stocks would last five months.

He expected rising wheat prices on the international market to more than double Jordan’s wheat import bill to $2.5 billion this year — compared with $1.1 billion last year.

“What [type of] food security are we talking about? Jordan imports 70 per cent of its basic foods and 95 per cent of its wheat,” Mr Al Ajarmeh said.

He said import volumes equivalent to five more months of consumption are expected to arrive this summer.

While the price of flour, which is subsidised, has remained stable at $1.54 a kilogram almost everything else at supermarkets has risen in cost.

Sugar prices have risen since the Russian invasion of Ukraine from 90 cents a kg to $1.

An executive at a major sugar importer in Amman told The National that he expects the supermarket shelf price to rise further in the next few weeks, saying main exporters in Brazil have increased prices.

“All together we are talking about a 30 per cent price rise by the end of the year,” said the executive, who did not want to be named.

Rice rose 10 cents to $1.92 a kg while cooking oil rose 30 cents to 2.90 a litre.

Mustafa Rumman, a grocer in West Amman said vegetable and fruit prices have risen by one-third on average since the beginning of this year, although prices have dropped since the end of Ramadan.

“The cost of fertilisers and fuel for farmers have gone up tremendously,” he said. He added that Jordanian farmers pay $77 for a 50kg bag of fertiliser, compared with $25 a few months ago.

Petrol prices at the pump have risen 10 per cent to $1.20 a litre for 90 octane.

A mother of two who was shopping at the grocer complained that “it has become much cheaper to feed my kids junk food than vegetables”.

Nael Al Kabarati, head of the pro-government Jordan Chamber of Commerce, said traders in the kingdom have proven their acumen by securing supplies in a tough global environment, although consumers have borne the brunt of extra costs.

“The local market has not seen any shortages,” Mr Al Kabariti said. “There are plenty of offers [on supermarket shelves] despite the rising operational costs.”

Updated: June 19, 2023, 12:20 PM