Ahmadinejad faces new dilemma as rice prices rise in Iran

May 9th, 2008 - 10:01 am ICT by admin  

By Farshid Motahari
Tehran, May 9 (DPA) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can certainly not complain about not having enough excitement these days. The country is facing renewed financial sanctions through the UN Security Council due to Tehran’s defiance over its nuclear projects, neighbouring Iraq is accusing Iran of supporting and arming Shia insurgents, and the West is more and more isolating the Islamic state.

Furthermore the new parliament is expected to be more critical of the president than during the previous legislative period, especially over his economic policies.

The president’s latest dilemma however is far more important than his foreign and legislative problems as it affects all Iranians directly: the price for rice has drastically increased, almost tripling since mid-March.

“I really don’t know how to explain all this to my customers? The rice prices are really becoming unaffordable for normal people and they all blame me for the hike,” said Reza, a supermarket owner in northern Tehran.

A meal without rice has no meaning in Iran and is not even considered real food by most. But the astronomically increasing rice prices have gradually made this daily necessity unaffordable for many Iranians.

Before the new Persian year (March 21), rice prices used to be between 15,000 to 18,000 Rials ($1.6-1.9) per kilo but have since risen to 40,000 to 55,000 Rials ($4.3-5.9) a kilo.

According to rice cultivators, the price hike is due to a drought in the last weeks in the northern Caspian Sea provinces that they claim scorched their fields.

Another reason however could be that rice fields are no longer considered economical for cultivators, who are gradually selling their fields to invest in more lucrative markets.

Iran’s rice cultivation organization rejects the drought excuse and says that rice currently in the market is from last autumn and cannot be affected by recent developments.

The organization secretary, Jamil Alizadeh, says drought, new tariffs or increasing global rice prices might become a reason for the market price later this year but not at the current juncture.

The Iranian government blames the price hike on market speculators who are trying to make huge profits by imposing a “psychological shock” on the market.

One of the main aims by President Ahmadinejad is to fight what he calls a “market mafia,” which he also blames for the astronomic increase of real state prices, which have grown by 300 percent since 2005.

Ahmadinejad further accuses speculators of attempting to harm the performance of his government, which has been seen under its tenure inflation rates ranging between 20 to 30 percent. Such numbers have led to widespread criticism throughout the country.

“Mafia or not, the government is supposed to do something about this,” said Haleh, a housewife from Tehran. “How shall I make food without rice? My husband and kids do not eat anything when there is no rice besides it.”

State radio tries to calm down people’s fears over further price increases by reassuring them that there will be no shortage of rice and no reason for concern.

The government has provided special telephone numbers for people to call and denounce supermarkets where rice is being sold at high prices.

“This is meaningless,” said supermarket owner Reza. “The wholesalers determine the price and we either have to buy or not. And we have to buy because what is a supermarket without rice.”

Iranian food, mainly stews or Kebabs, are all served with a large portion of rice. Food without rice is considered by many Iranians as just a snack.

The alternative to rice would be bread. Bread prices have recently increased as well, but unlike rice bread is at least still affordable at prices of 1,500 Rials ($0.16) upwards per loaf.

“Bread is no alternative. Life without rice would be like gradual death,” says Ali, a taxi driver from Tehran.

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