ISTANBUL. — For months, Istanbul restaurant Tarihi Balikca tried to absorb the surging cost of the sunflower oil its cooks use to fry fish, squid and mussels.
But in early April, with oil prices nearly four times higher than they were in 2019, the restaurant finally raised its prices. Now, even some longtime customers look at the menu and walk away.
“We resisted. We said, ‘Let’s wait a bit, maybe the market will improve, maybe (prices) will stabilize. But we saw that there is no improvement,” said Mahsun Aktas, a waiter and cook at the restaurant. “The customer cannot afford it.”
Global cooking oil prices have been rising since the Covid-19 pandemic began for multiple reasons, from poor harvests in South America to virus-related labour shortages and steadily increasing demand from the biofuel industry. The war in Ukraine — which supplies nearly half of the world’s sunflower oil, on top of the 25 percent from Russia — has interrupted shipments and sent cooking oil prices spiralling.
It is the latest fallout to the global food supply from Russia’s war, and another rising cost pinching households and businesses as inflation soars. The conflict has further fuelled already high food and energy costs, hitting the poorest people hardest.
The food supply is particularly at risk as the war has disrupted crucial grain shipments from Ukraine and Russia and worsened a global fertilizer crunch that will mean costlier, less abundant food. The loss of affordable supplies of wheat, barley and other grains raises the prospect of food shortages and political instability in Middle Eastern, African and some Asian countries where millions rely on subsidized bread and cheap noodles.
Vegetable oil prices hit a record high in February, then increased another 23 percent in March, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Soyabean oil, which sold for US$765 per tonne in 2019, was averaging US$1 957 per tonne in March, the World Bank said. Palm oil prices were up 200 percent and are set to go even higher after Indonesia, one of the world’s top producers, bans cooking oil exports starting Thursday to protect domestic supply.
Some supermarkets in Turkey have imposed limits on the amount of vegetable oil households can purchase after concerns about shortages sparked panic-buying. Some stores in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom also have set limits.
German shoppers are posting photos on social media of empty shelves where sunflower and canola oil usually sit. In a recent tweet, Kenya’s main power company warned that thieves are draining toxic fluid from electrical transformers and reselling it as cooking oil.
“We will just have to boil everything now, the days of the frying pan are gone,” said Glaudina Nyoni, scanning prices in a supermarket in Harare, where vegetable oil costs have almost doubled since the outbreak of the war. A 2-litre bottle now costs up to US$9. – NPR.org