Algerian milk crisis raises social tensions

Shortages come at a time when presidential elections edge closer

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“Two ministers sink in a milk bag,” the front page of an Algerian newspaper recently quipped.

The statement was in reference to the agriculture and commerce ministers being responsible for the current milk shortages gripping the North African nation.

The current shortage threatens to spark unrest in the country as key presidential elections loom.

For the past two weeks, Algerians rise early in the hope of buying scarce subsidized bags of milk - the only other option to buy far more expensive milk from private distributors.

“The milk distributor didn’t pass by my shop at dawn as he used to, and even when he passes he doesn’t distribute enough for my customers,” said Sameh Abdul Ghani, a merchant in the suburbs of Algiers.

This scarcity had led to some shop owners saying that they have no milk for sale.

In an attempt to tackle the shortages and avoid any social repercussions, authorities sacked a company director at one of Algier’s central distributors and have prevented products from raising prices.

Additionally, the Minister of Commerce Mostafa Ben Bada announced this week that the price of government-subsidized milk - costing only $0.18 per liter - would remain unchanged.

Algeria currently imports most of its milk – spending over a billion dollars on the liquid in 2013.

The country’s reliance on imported foodstuffs has been a consistent source of complaint under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s successive cabinets.

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