World Bulletin/News Desk
Sudanese queued outside empty bread shops in Khartoum on Monday after four days of scarcity that bakers blamed on a downturn in government wheat imports due to a shortage of hard currency.
Residents said bread prices had risen this week, although the government, which subsidises the food staple, has not announced any change. Three loaves now sell for one Sudanese pound ($0.18), instead of four loaves previously, they said
"For four days I have been going from one bakery to another to get bread and can't find it," said a woman named Amal Aly, standing in line outside a bakery in downtown Khartoum.
There were no reports of unrest due to the bread shortage. Dozens of people were killed and more than 700 arrested in violent protests in September after the government cut fuel subsidies, doubling pump prices overnight.
The violence prompted the government to defer plans to reduce wheat subsidies, an official in the ruling National Congress Party said at the time.
The subsidy cuts are part of a 7 billion Sudanese pound($1.23 billion) austerity package the government introduced in July 2012 to deal with an economic crisis.
Sudan's financial woes have worsened since South Sudan seceded in 2011, depriving Khartoum of three-quarters of the oil output it relied on for state revenue and foreign currency.
HARD CURRENCY SHORTAGE?
The head of the Bakeries' Union, Al-Tayeb al-Umraby, was quoted in the local Al-Sudany newspaper on Monday as saying some bakers had complained they were receiving only half the amount of wheat normally supplied to them by the government.
"They blame Sudan's central bank for failing to provide foreign currency to import wheat," Umraby said.
The deputy head of parliament, Hajw Kasam al-Sayed, told reporters at the weekend Sudan had wheat stocks for 25 days.
The Central Bank does not disclose its foreign reserves. The government has not commented on the capital's bread scarcity.
Mohamed Shawki, a government employee, was close to despair after queueing at another of the five bakeries visited by a Reuters reporter on Monday. "They keep telling us to wait, but for how long? No one seems to know or want to tell us," he said.
Sudan's domestic wheat harvest, due in April, is also set to suffer, local media reports say, because of seeds imported from Turkey that were either defective or not properly stored.
The government has appointed a technical committee to investigate the issue.
The agriculture minister said in June that Sudan imports about 1.5 million tonnes of wheat a year, but hopes to reduce this by offering local farmers higher prices to boost output.
Sudan is prized for its fertile land and easy access to Nile river water, but its farming sector has been marred for decades by mismanagement, corruption and high taxes.
Price rises have also hit newspaper readers, with seven of Sudan's most popular dailies increasing their rates by a third this week and announcing they will go up again in January.Last Mod: 18 Kasım 2013, 17:17