World food crisis: Eastern Europe

World food crisis: Eastern Europe

Rising food prices have emerged as a top political issue in many countries of the world. In some places, they have sparked riots in which people have died.

Food inflation is a burgeoning political problem in Eastern Europe too. It has forced families to make difficult choices about what they put on their tables.

Take the Malkhasyan family from Sochi, in the south of Russia.

Lamara is an economist and the family's breadwinner. Her husband, Sergei, is a pensioner. And their daughter, Marietta, is a student.

The city, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, is in Russia's most famous agricultural region. It is surrounded by corn fields - but the Malkhasyans complain that food costs as much as in Moscow.

They pay 70 roubles ($2.80) for a kilo of potatoes; 120 roubles ($4.80) for a kilo of apricots; 220 roubles ($8.80) for a kilo of pork.

Lamara says more than half the family budget goes on food, and claims prices for some staples have more than doubled over the past year. This time a year ago potatoes cost just 30 Roubles a kilo. She blames the increases on the announcement of the city as the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

According to the World Bank, the gross national product (GNP) per capita in Russia is $13,166.

The family has lots of relatives and friends; it has become something of a family tradition to invite them for a weekly barbecue. But that is becoming more and more of a struggle.

'Better than Communism"

Across the Black Sea, in Romania, lives the Vasilescu family - inhabitants of a village called Tantava, in Giurgiu County.

Even before food inflation really made itself felt over recent months, Romanians were already spending a larger proportion of their incomes on food than people in Western Europe.

The Vasilescus say about 40% of the family income goes on food. They complain that the oil they use for salad dressings has gone from 20,000 lei ($0.20) a year ago, to 80,000 lei ($0.80) now.

Cheese has become especially expensive, with good brands going for 200,000 lei ($2) a kilo. A decent cut of pork, the most widely eaten meat, costs about the same.

The World Bank suggests Romania is somewhat poorer than Russia, putting the country's GNP per capita at $10,432.

The family keeps chickens and slaughters a pig in autumn and at Christmas time, providing enough meat for six weeks.

Mr and Mrs Vasilescu say they are worried by rising food prices.

But it is still easier than life in communist Romania. Then, they say, meat was a luxury, oil and sugar were rationed, and butter could literally start a riot outside food shops.

Staples

To the south, in the Turkish city of Izmir, lives the Firat family.

Devrim is a shipping manager; his wife, Ozlem, is an engineer in the food industry. They have a baby son - the "little Tasmanian monster", as they call him.

They are also feeling the pinch, when they go to the shopping centre to stock up on food.

The family staples of bread and rice have nearly doubled in price in a year. Rice now costs four new Turkish lira a kilo - or just over $3. But, they say, cheese and other dairy products have also gone up sharply - sometimes as much as 40%.

Turkey's GNP per capita, the World Bank concludes, is lower than Romania's - at just $8,400 per annum.

Mr Firat says he has noticed that the prices of electronic equipment, clothes, toys and gifts have not gone up, because "anything made in China" is still at the same price. But he insists everything else a family needs "has dramatically increased".

Belt-tightening

Albania, still one of Europe's poorest countries, has been hit hard by food inflation.

The Mucmata family lives in the northern city of Kukes.

Drita is unemployed, so the whole family survives on the sole income of her husband, Bujari.

Drita says that a year ago 5,000 old leks ($3.5) bought the basic food for three meals a day. Today, the same amount buys just a kilo of oil, or a packet of pasta, or a jar of coffee.

She says fruit and vegetables have gone up so much that her young children "see them on the table less and less".

Bujari works in the public sector, and complains that the government is unable to increase his salary to keep up with inflation. At a time when food prices have shot up, he says, there are also massive hikes in the price of electricity and transport to cope with.

He says that his family, like many in Albania, is tightening its belt, "in order to afford somehow the increasing costs".