27 May 2007

The Price of Bread

Nine days ago, a small article appeared in AIM online about changes to bread prices in Mozambique. I read it, but didn't really think about the affects of a 43% increase in the price of a loaf of bread until today.

I've stopped eating most bread in the US because it sucks. It tastes like sawdust, has no consistency, and lasts longer than a food of that type should (in my humble opinion). However, Mozambicanos can make bread. They learned from the Portuguese who also make good bread. Chewy crust on the outside and decent chewy consistency on the inside. You can get white, whole wheat, and 7 grain, but you have to eat it fast. There are no preservatives so it only lasts a day or so. The smell of freshly baked bread wakes me up more than the smell of hot coffee. It is absolute heaven to pass a bakery early in the morning in Maputo.

Bread is a staple food in Mozambique. People eat a lot of rice and tschima (corn mash/pap/grits) with various meat and vegetable stews, but every day I pass pão vendedores on the street corners selling warm loaves slathered in butter or a groundnut paste (unsweetened) for breakfast and lunch. For some, the only meal they can depend on daily is a piece of bread (sometimes with butter or nut paste) and a cup of tea from the HIV clinic or church kitchen at the orphanage.

Today I stopped in at a small bakery next door to my neighborhood grocer's. The electricity was out in my apartment so my stove wasn't working. In times like these, peanut butter and strawberry jam always comes to my rescue. The price of pãozinhos (rolls) went up in the past week from 1 metical each to 1.5 meticais. The current exchange rate is 25.8 metacais = $1 US, so a roll costs approximately 4 cents US. That is not a lot for me, but for someone living on the streets it is a lot.

Mozambique grows only a very small amount of wheat in Tete province. Corn (milho) and rice are major grain crops here. Pretty much all of the wheat consumed in-country is imported. At the end of April a 50 kg sack of wheat flour cost 550 MTN ($22 USD). In two weeks, that price rose to 595 MTN (about $24 USD).

The bakers blame the millers, and the millers blame the international markets. A 250 gm loaf now costs 5 metacais (20 cents), and there is some fear that people will just stop buying bread. Other people are concerned about selling loaves that are smaller for the same price. It probably seems silly to anyone paying $1.50 or more for a loaf of bread in the US, but back in the States people have other food options. And now that winter has set in, that extra meal provides the energy to ward off shivering on a cold tropical morning. Many rural residents will continue to subsist on what they always have - foods like tschima and rice cooked over a fire. It is the urban and suburban residents who will feel the pinch.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff. There are fears that food prices elsewhere will soon be impacted by worlkd markets, too, especially as demand for biofuel increases and gobbles up a larger share of crop output.