In Turkey, bread lines are stretching as inflation soars | Business and Economy News

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Istanbul, Turkey – On a sunny afternoon this week in Istanbul’s Uskudar district, retiree Niazi Toprak was sitting on a bench reading the newspaper while waiting for a delivery of fresh bread to arrive. He was accompanied by dozens of other people who had also lined up at the nearby kiosk belonging to the city’s subsidized bread program.

Istanbul Halk Ekmek, or “Public Bread,” sells a 250g (8.8oz) baguette for 1.25 Turkish Lira ($ 0.09) – cheaper than at nearby bakeries, where prices start at $ 2.00 50 lire ($ 0.18).

While the difference is measured in cents, the savings add up for Toprak and many other Istanbulites who line up every day at more than 1,500 of these kiosks across the city.

“Everything gets expensive, from your food to your bread, from your shirt to the socks you wear,” Toprak, 71, told Al Jazeera.

A former truck driver and food wholesaler who retired five years ago, he recently moved in with his children because of the lack of money. “My Social Security pension only earns 800 lire ($ 56) a month, so that’s not enough these days to live on my own,” Toprak said. “There are four of us in the house and our rent is 2,000 lire ($ 140 per month). Each of us eats at least one loaf of bread a day, so I plan to buy four loaves of bread from here. You need to save every little bit of money that you can these days.

The Turkish lira has lost about 48% of its value against the US dollar this year, experiencing a full crash in November.

That same month, Turkey’s annual inflation rate jumped to 21.3%, according to government statistics. But government critics even doubt the mind-boggling calculation, pointing to what appear to be much larger increases in food, rent and energy prices.

Istanbul Municipality, currently ruled by opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, has released its own figures showing the cost of living in the city has risen by more than 50% in one year. According to the Istanbul Bureau of Statistics, the price of wheat rose 109 percent, that of sunflower oil by 137 percent, toilet paper by 90 percent, sugar by 90 percent and natural gas by 102 percent.

Images of long queues at Istanbul bread kiosks in recent weeks show the city’s inflation-fueled lower standard of living, especially for low-income households [Umar Farooq/Al Jazeera]

For many, the price of bread is the pulse of the Turkish street. The country’s bread industry employers union estimates that 200-300 kg (440-660 pounds) of bread is consumed per person per year in Turkey. It is most often a soft baguette, sliced ​​like toast and used to scoop up eggs, cheeses, olives, jams, and other breakfast foods. In thousands of Istanbul cafeteria-style restaurants called “esnaf lokantasi” that cater to workers hungry for home-cooked food, the slices are presented alongside beans, soup or other dishes. On the sidewalks of Istanbul, a baguette is cut in half and used to make a sandwich with chicken, ground beef or fish.

Bread is such an important staple that at the height of strict closures during the coronavirus pandemic, Turks were allowed to leave their homes for two things: visits to the pharmacy or visits to the bakery.

“Bread is an essential part of Turkish cuisine and it is eaten frequently, especially if you are a poor family,” said Berk Esen, IPC-Stiftung Mercator member at the Center for Applied Studies on Turkey and professor. assistant at Sabancı University. “For a family of five or six, for example, where parents, children and the elderly live together, maybe at least two pieces of bread are eaten every day. So even though Halk Ekmek bread is only a few liras cheaper, over a month that is a substantial amount for a low-income family, and the price differential between that bread and what is in the markets does not. will only widen as inflation increases.

Inflation has become the burning political issue in Turkey, with opposition parties even calling for snap elections, alleging that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appear to ignore the difficulties. encountered by many people in Turkey. Turkey.

While Erdogan has the power to appoint or sack government ministers and central bank policymakers, municipal governments in major cities like Istanbul and Ankara are currently led by opposition figures.

Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu has made his own local efforts to reduce poverty in the city. Halk Ekmek’s daily production of “public bread” has doubled to more than 2.5 million baguettes and other varieties of bread. Anonymous Benefactors can go online to pay the utility bills of troubled residents. The city also distributes formula and milk to thousands of mothers in need, and offers modest scholarships to students facing rising costs in the metropolis of 16 million people.

Similar programs run by the federal government also exist, such as assistance for new mothers and scholarships for students. But critics say the lifelines have failed to keep pace with growing needs as inflation weighs on Turkish households. The federal government is also currently negotiating with labor groups over raising the minimum wage, and authorities have stepped up inspections of grocery stores to check for gouging prices and hoarding of essentials.

Istanbul’s subsidized bread program has been around since the 1970s. While it was founded by the CHP, Esen said successive governments have recognized its importance and have worked to expand it, including the AKP, which ruled the municipality for over a decade.

24 hour operation

Nestled between partially built skyscrapers on the eastern outskirts of Istanbul, Halk Ekmek’s Kartal Factory has an assembly line that produces constant, loud noise that makes it hard to hear. The 24/7 operation is at the center of an effort to provide a staple food to Istanbul residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

Around 100 workers are employed in the factory, but a need for speed and efficiency means that the bread is made with minimal human intervention, with the ingredients being mixed by machines which then knead the dough, cut it into shape and form it. pass through specially designed ovens. four separate production lines.

Subsidized bread production at the Istanbul Halk Ekmek factory in the Kartal district of Istanbul [Umar Farooq/Al Jazeera]

Two baguette lines produce 7,500 pieces of bread per hour, while others produce 25,000 pieces of smaller square bread. Some 360,000 baguettes and 600,000 small square pieces of bread are produced here every day, but engineer Mustafa Umit Ikinmez said that was still not enough to meet demand. “We are always trying to increase our production capacity,” Ikinmez told Al Jazeera.

The bread is then packed into 30 to 40 trucks that distribute the breads to sites across town three times a day.

The Kartal factory is one of three the municipality operates in Istanbul to produce basic bread as well as dozens of specialty breads – from gluten-free to whole wheat – which are sold not only in municipal kiosks but also in grocery chains.

Images of long queues at Istanbul’s bread kiosks in recent weeks show the city’s inflation-fueled lower standard of living, especially for low-income households.

Ozgen Nama, the city’s deputy director of the Halk Ekmek program, told Al Jazeera that demand has increased dramatically across the city, but the longest queues are seen in working-class neighborhoods far from the city center. .

“We have doubled production [in the last two years] and there are still queues, and that just shows that people have no purchasing power and that they are getting poorer, ”Nama said. “This is a clear indication that people are getting poorer in this country. “

The municipality is building another factory which is expected to be commissioned next year, adding an additional one million subsidized breads to feed the city’s struggling population. But Nama said the additional supply will not be enough to meet the city’s needs. “Even if we quadrupled our production, that wouldn’t be enough to meet demand. The bread is running out, but the lines are only halfway now, ”he said.

The supply of chopsticks ran out in less than an hour one afternoon at a kiosk in the western district of Esenyurt visited by Al Jazeera. “There is a line here every day,” said a worker who asked Al Jazeera not to disclose his name. “The bread is delivered at 2 p.m., and at 3 p.m. it’s all gone, and the people at the back of the line are going home empty-handed,” he said, counting the returns. money for the day as he prepared to close earlier.

Meanwhile, private bakeries in the city are struggling to keep their prices somewhat affordable at 2.5 Turkish Lira for a 250g loaf of bread.

The Bread Industry Employers’ Union, which represents private bakers in Turkey, is in constant struggle with federal authorities like the Ministry of Agriculture to find a way to cut costs. Prices for the main ingredient in bread – flour – rose 85 percent between April and November of this year, according to a union statement. The poor wheat harvests in 2021 were partly to blame, the union said, but one of the main causes of the price hike is the rapid devaluation of the pound. Fertilizer, fuel and other essentials to produce wheat, for example, are often imported and paid for in euros or dollars, and this cost is passed on to bakeries.

Engineer Mustafa Umit Ikinmez inspects production at Istanbul Halk Ekmek factory in Istanbul’s Kartal district [Umar Farooq/Al Jazeera]

Nama said the municipality bought flour up to eight months in advance to keep pace with inflation. But the price of flour, he says, has dropped from 127 lire ($ 8.95) for a 50kg (110lb) bag around the start of the year, to 350 lire ($ 24.67) today. ‘hui.


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