Armenia has started receiving thousands of tons of grain and cooking oil in humanitarian assistance provided by Russia’s government, a senior government official said on Thursday.
Emergencies Minister Armen Yeritsian said the 5,000 tons of grain and 1,000 tons of sunflower will help the country cope with a recent sharp increase in international prices of these foodstuffs.
The price hike followed a severe summer drought that devastated crops across Russia and led the Russian government to ban all grain exports. The measure pushed up the cost of wheat in international markets to the highest level since the 2007-08 global food crisis. As a result, bread prices in Armenia soared by more than 20 percent in July and August.
Imported wheat, most of it coming from Russia, meets nearly two-thirds of Armenia’s domestic demand estimated at roughly 600,000 metric tons per annum. Armenian officials have repeatedly assured the population in recent months that the Russian export ban will not lead to wheat shortages in the local market.
Speaking at a weekly meeting of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet, Yeritsian said nearly half of the sunflower oil donated by Moscow has already been shipped to Armenia. “The rest of the oil will be imported within one week, after which we will start grain shipments,” he told fellow ministers.
An official at the Armenian Emergencies Ministry told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the grain deliveries will start on October 4.
It is not yet clear just how the authorities in Yerevan plan to use the food aid. Yeritsian said only that it will be stored at warehouses of his ministry’s Agency for State Reserves for the time being.
Government critics believe that the impact of external factors on domestic food prices would have been less severe had lucrative imports of wheat and other basic foodstuffs to Armenia not been effectively monopolized by a handful of government-linked businessmen.
The government, for its part, says the best way to guard against international price fluctuations is to ease Armenia’s heavy dependence on wheat imports. It approved in July a five-year plans of actions which officials said will boost domestic wheat output to over 350,000 tons by 2013.