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EMMA report on the Wheat Flour and Tomato Market Systems

Eastern Libya
June, 2011

Following the rise of civil conflict in mid-February 2011, Libya is now effectively a country split in two, the east governed by the Transactional National Council and the west remaining under the control of the government of Muammar Gaddafi. On a national level, the conflict has had a profound impact on market chain actors, market linkages and market integration. However, the impact on overall food security and food access at the household level in eastern Libya cannot yet be characterized as significant.

This EMMA assessment analyzes the stresses placed on the crucial market systems of wheat flour and tomatoes following the crisis. Field research was carried out in Benghazi, Al Baydah, Saloug, Ajdabiya, Gatara Valley and Marj. The objective of this EMMA was to ensure that the identified critical markets would clearly indicate the impact of the ongoing conflict on key market sectors which are integral to the population’s food basket but also reflective of evolving market linkages, labor dependence and the reliance on systems of importation.

For local households, wheat is the foundation of the household food basket, and tomatoes reflect the potential disruption caused by the lack of agricultural labor. Many Libyan farmers who grow tomatoes also cultivate a variety of vegetable crops. Agricultural activities in eastern Libya primarily focus on the smaller-scale production of vegetables and fruit, which compete for market share with produce imported from Egypt. Typical farming areas are defined by relatively small landowners who employ mixed farming methods which are typically complimented by livestock such as dairy cows and/or sheep. The majority of crops depend on rainfall or well water, with many existing irrigation infrastructure and water systems defunct or functioning poorly due to lack of spare parts and maintenance.

The physical infrastructure and human capital that supports and operates the wheat market system remains entirely functional. Output of milled flour for baking into bread and consumption is dependent on dwindling stocks that will be depleted by the end of July. Currently, the largest and only significant disruption to the overall wheat market system is the stoppage of the importation of wheat. However, ongoing instability will have a deleterious effect on domestic wheat production, as availability of increasingly expensive inputs remains unreliable, farmers will be forced to reduce planting as a hedge against continued market uncertainty. Although eastern Libya has historically imported much more wheat than it produces, reduction in the availability of domestically grown wheat will further elevate the need to unblock the wheat importation pipeline.

The tomato market system has been affected immediately and significantly. Farmers depend on foreign laborers for the planting, maintenance and harvesting of tomatoes and other vegetable crops. Most foreign laborers have fled, causing a labor scarcity compounded by increased costs of fertilizer and pesticide. Acreage planted and yields have fallen, and cheap tomatoes imported from Jordan and Egypt have filled the market in response to reduced competition and lower border tariffs. The conflict has also cut off farmers from markets in the west, which has historically represented a varied but often important market for tomatoes and other produce grown in the east. If the conflict and resulting disruptive instability continues, farmers will be increasingly affected by high input costs and reduced revenues.

Ultimately, within a context which is defined by such dramatic reliance on importation and which has no real options of improved local production in the immediate to short‐term, the only clear recommendation is that wheat is sourced immediately or there will be a break in the pipeline which will have a resounding impact on households' food security throughout eastern Libya. For tomatoes, in the short term agricultural production in the east will continue to be negatively impacted by the loss of migrant labor and the unregulated importation of goods through Egypt. If the conflict subsides and relative stability returns, tomato farmers may decide to invest more in the third planting than they have in the first and second this year. The medium and longer‐term effects of the conflict, as well as farmers’ ability to deal with future shocks is not fully understood. Programming should be undertaken to improve availability and affordability of inputs, rehabilitate and expand irrigation infrastructure and apply technical expertise for eradication of persistent insects and blights.

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