The shrinking volume of a popular Yemeni bread is a byproduct of the weakening national currency
Bread loaves the "size and weight of a pen" are symbols of Yemen’s currency crisis
At an overcrowded bakery in Aden’s Crater neighborhood, Khaled Helmi pays 500 Yemeni riyals for 25 loaves of “rooti,” a common type of bread in Yemen.
It’s no longer enough for his family of five, who used to buy bread twice a day like the rest of the neighborhood’s households. But with a sharp rise in the price of food staples including bread, people’s purchasing power has dropped significantly, despite government subsidies aimed at making commodities like flour, sugar and rice more affordable.
Before the war, Helmi said he could buy 25 rooti for 375 riyals, and the loaves were bigger and heavier. “Now a single loaf is the size and weight of a pen,” he said.
Helmi’s baker, who spoke to Almasdar Online on condition of anonymity, said the cost of ingredients to make rooti has skyrocketed: The price of a bag of flour has increased from 4,300 riyals to 10,700 riyals, he said, while a bag of yeast has more than tripled in price from 250 riyals to 850 riyals.
The baker said he called on the authorities to lower flour prices so he and others can offer the same size and weight of bread they used to. Overhead costs including firewood, electricity, water, labor, taxes and other supplies have also increased significantly, he said.
The price of flour had reached 11,000 riyals per bag at one point, but it has since fallen to about 9,000 riyals, according to an official at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. He refuted the baker’s claim that a bag sold for 4,300 riyals before the war.
Fadel Sweileh, director general of market stability and consumer protection at the ministry, said he has received complaints about at least 20 bakeries in Aden governorate manipulating the price and weight of rooti, which were set at 20 riyals per loaf (weighing 57 grams) in 2018. Bakeries that don’t comply with ministry regulations are fined 10,000 riyals, he said.
The manipulation of these regulations is a byproduct of the drop in the value of the Yemeni riyal, whose pre-war exchange rate of 250 riyals per $1 dollar is now nearly 600 riyals per $1.
"The recent collapse of the riyal raises fears of a new increase in commodity prices due to high inflation," said economist Abdul Wahid Al-Obaly.
Stabilizing the currency requires an urgent intervention by Saudi Arabia in the form of a $2 billion cash deposit in the Central Bank in Aden, he said, noting that the last Saudi cash injection is running out.
Yemen-based economist Farouk Al-Kamali predicts a temporary rise in the riyal’s value once the salaries of army forces and those belonging to the Southern Transitional Council (STC) are paid, as part of the Riyadh agreement, which negotiated an end fighting between the groups that erupted in August. The payment of the joint forces’ salaries is one of numerous points outlined in the power sharing agreement that have yet to be implemented.
While the methods for producing rooti vary–from stone ovens using firewood to more modern, automated systems–the ratios of ingredients is largely the same. But that’s changing.
Before the war a bag of flour would yield between 1,000 and 1,100 loaves of rooti, according to Bilal Khaled, who works at a large-scale rooti manufacturer in Aden. But that equation has gradually changed, and one bag is now used to make between 1,500 and 1,700 loaves.
Due to a lack of controls and unethical practices in the industry, many bakers have begun to use extra yeast in their recipes to make the flour go further. That has led to lower quality rooti, according to many Adenis.
Some bakeries are now also producing lower quality types of bread aside from rooti.
Despite the economic challenges in the wartime baking industry, however, government officials say the number of bakeries in Aden governorate has increased slightly over the past five years to 215.