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Jordan moves to alleviate pressure on poor from higher food prices

The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation has announced that worldwide food prices have hit a record high, outstripping levels reached during 2008.

An official from the World Bank has warned “food price increases impact the poor hardest as food is a higher proportion of their incomes”. To ease growing tension and avoid unrest, some governments are already making moves to help their struggling citizens.

Jordan is one such country. On Tuesday this week, the Jordanian authorities approved a 225 million package of measures to ease price pressures on key commodities. Sugar and rice sold through state-run outlets will be lowered in price by 10 per cent and the cabinet also announced there would be price caps to stop a hike in the cost of other foods. To help mitigate the extra cost, there will also be a 6 per cent decrease in the price of kerosene, widely used by Jordanians for heating their homes, and a 5 per cent reduction in gasoline. A decade ago, Jordan removed subsidies on fuel as part of free-market reforms and when bread subsidies were ended, there was civil unrest. Therefore some of the government’s 2011 budget has already been allocated to lower the price of bread on which many of the country’s poor depend.

Although by global standards Jordan is a reasonably prosperous country, with a low rate of extreme poverty - according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) under 2 per cent of the population survive on less than 1 dollar per day – nutritional health is low among the poorest in society. A survey conducted by the Jordanian Department of Statistics published in March last year found that one in ten Jordanian children suffer from chronic malnutrition or long-term protein deficiency, while a third were identified as anaemic.

To address such a worrying finding, the Jordanian authorities are trialling the addition of extra nutrients to school meals. A blue-green algae known as spirulina is being added to children’s food. Spirulina is rich in protein and vitamin B and also contains beta-carotene, helping to address Vitamin A deficiency which can cause eye problems. A tablespoon of spirulina is able to eradicate anaemia or lack of iron, the most common mineral deficiency. Jordan’s Minister of Agriculture explained that with climate change putting extra strain on precious water supplies, countries in hot climates needed to look for “unconventional sources of nutrition”.

Though the Minister said it was too early to comment on the success of the trial food programme, a report to be published in June 2011 will set out the results and recommend whether meals with spirulina should be extended. Spirulina has a bitter taste and is often added to sweet foods for children. Khaled Sarhan was one pupil who had been eating the algae-fortified biscuits at his primary school. Though initially he said that he didn’t like the biscuits with the added spirulina, “after my teacher told me how useful it is, I got used to the taste”. If the food trial proves successful, this useful algae could therefore be adopted in other countries of the region, such as Egypt.

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