Over the course of Syria’s crisis, food prices have risen so high they now exceed the average Syrian’s ability to cover the daily bread. In Damascus, where prices have fared relatively better than in the rest of the country, residents say the average rate of food inflation has reached 300 percent. Transportation and shipping costs, as well as the drop in value of the Syrian pound, have made the situation worse.
In the same period, many government employees, who have the most stable jobs in the country’s war economy, say they have seen their salaries rise by no more than 30 percent. In the private sector, incomes have generally decreased, while tens of thousands of workers have been laid off and remain unemployed.
A study by the Central Bureau of Statistics that looked at how much money the average Syrian family currently needs to buy basic food products shows that each person requires 4,700 pounds, or $32, with a family of four needing about 19,000 pounds per month. That’s the equivalent of a the full salary of an entry-level civil servant. Securing basic goods has forced Syrian civilians to reduce their spending to the bare minimum. According to the estimates of some merchants in major Syrian cities, the domestic goods market has decreased by 70 percent.
Abu Hamdi is the head of his five-person family. “I was working as a driver of a car to transport goods to a laboratory in Zablatani, but the factory stopped [production] and I was left without a regular job,” he says. “I get very little money now, and as a result I replaced most of our food with other, cheaper products, regardless of the quality.”
Before the conflict, he “used to buy butter, but the price per kilo today is 1,300 pounds ($9) so I replaced it with margarine, as the price per kilo is 350 pounds.” The same tactic applies to yogurt, a favorite family product. Our regular brand is now 550 pounds per kilo, Abu Hamdi says, so he now buys a cheaper brand for 300 pounds per kilo. “I know it’s fake, but this is what my current means will allow. My spending is much higher than my salary. Relatives are helping me to sustain a living.”
Price of Food Jumps 600 Percent
Meat, poultry and dairy products have the highest inflation of all consumer goods. The price of poultry has risen from 105 Syrian pounds ($.70) per kilo before the crisis to 615 pounds after.
A crate of eggs rose from 120 pounds to 675, and milk and cheese have experienced similar increases of about 500 percent. The increase in milk prices has contributed to the prevalence of “fake” dairy products made from powdered milk.Consumers of lamb meat are also paying higher prices, averaging 700 to 1,100 extra pounds per portion. Nearly every other staple product on the market has been affected, including rice, potatoes, olive oil, ghee and vegetables.
The average salary of an employed Syrian is currently 20,000 pounds per month. On average, a family of five needs, per month, two kilos of meat (3,000 pounds), two kilos of poultry (1,200), two crates of eggs (1,300), and rice, sugar, ghee and beans, costing an average of 2,000. The total cost of these items can reach 7,500 pounds per month. For an average family of five subsisting on one income, this means that the amount for securing the basic needs for food and transportation, not including healthcare in particular, will require the employed Syrian’s entire salary, if not more.
Why the Price Hikes?
Mohamad Al-Kishto, head of the Union of the Chambers of Agriculture, outlined the price hikes last month in comments to the Economist.
He said the crisis has affected the poultry farming industry, which in turn causes a rise in prices of eggs and meat. Many poultry farms are no longer in use due to the security situation, as they are located in dangerous areas of the countryside.
Other factors contributing to the price hikes include difficulties of transporting items like chicken feed, which are usually imported and now more expensive. There have also been steep increases in the price of diesel fuel. The lack of basic goods like meat in city markets has made any product that does make it to sale more valuable.
The increase in prices of locally grown produce is largely caused by a shortage in the production of most crops as a result of the security situation, the rise of costs of agricultural products like seeds and fertilizer, and the increase in transport wages. Meanwhile, imported produce like tomatoes and potatoes have spiked in conjunction with the exchange rate of the dollar. Syria’s government says it has tried to limit good price hikes by regulating profit margins.