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Georgian Food Prices Spark Malnutrition Fears

Poorest on diet so meagre that experts warn of under-nourishment.
By Manana Vardiashvili
  • Baking bread in the village of Gorelovka in Samtskhe-Javakheti region, southern Georgia. (Photo: Giorgi Kupatadze)
    Baking bread in the village of Gorelovka in Samtskhe-Javakheti region, southern Georgia. (Photo: Giorgi Kupatadze)

Food prices in Georgia have risen so fast this year that poorer sections of the population are at risk of malnutrition, doctors and nutrition experts say.

Although famed for its cuisine and fertile soil, Georgia is heavily dependent on imports, and just 12 per cent of foodstuffs consumed are grown in the country. Sharp price rises on the global market have therefore not been cushioned by local production, which in any case suffered due to drought.

Increases in grain prices have pushed the cost of a loaf of white bread up to 55 tetris (about 30 US cents) from just 40, while a loaf of Georgian “shoti” bread has gone from 60 to 80 tetris. The prices of meat, dairy and other products have risen by an average of 25 per cent. Some items like buckwheat – have risen by as much as 80 per cent.

“Prices are going almost on a daily basis, while our earnings falling. We have to make do with what we have, and cut down on purchases,” Tbilisi resident Lia Sefashvili, 32, said. “We’ve more or less stopped buying sweet things and fruit. We need to save money as well, since food products are likely to continue getting more expensive over the winter.”

Marina Sibashvili, 48, said she now spends 500 lari, about 280 dollars, a month just on food – around 70 per cent of the total family budget for herself, her husband and their two children.

“Our food is very monotonous – potatoes, pasta, rice, beans, tea and cooking oil. It comes round again and again. With 500 laris, we can’t buy meat or fish. Sometimes we allow ourselves frozen chicken pieces. My children are 13 and 14 and I’m really worried that I can’t give them proper food.”

“But what can I do?” she asked. “We have to live somehow. We need to pay our taxes and keep spending money on our children’s education, so we choose our food according to price, not for what we need or what good it will do us.”

According to the 2010 Global Hunger Index, published by the Food Policy Research Institute, Georgia has succeeded in improving average nutrition levels over the last two decades, but the population nevertheless remains “moderately undernourished”.

According to Soso Archvadze, a statistician who works for the Georgian parliament’s finance committee, “Between five and to seven per cent of the population now suffers from physical hunger. This category consumes less than 1,600 kilocalories a day. Then, 30 to 40 per cent of the population is not adequately fed. They might be getting enough calories, but the balance of fat, proteins and carbohydrates is wrong. You can go all day on bread and sugary water, and get calories, but you can’t call that proper nutrition.”

Medical experts say no recent comprehensive research has been done into the nutritional health of the Georgian population.

Guliko Dvali of the Investigative Institute for Sanitation and Hygiene said, “Sadly, lack of finances means we’re unable to study the nutrition situation of various categories. We need to establish whether we’re facing a food shortage…. Our research indicates that some people in the villages are consuming a kilo of bread in a day, and nothing else.”

The National Centre for Disease Control and Public Health said that last nutritional study was conducted in 2009, but covered only children under the age of five, pregnant women and women of reproductive age.

“That investigation showed chronic lack of food and deviation from [normal] nutrition, excess weight, and anaemia caused by a lack of iron,” the centre’s Lela Sturua said. “Eleven per cent of children under five had chronic malnutrition, meaning their growth was affected, and 23 per cent suffered from anaemia caused by lack of iron; 24 per cent of women of reproductive age were anaemic and 42 per cent were overweight.”

Sturua concluded, “It’s clear from these studies that this country has serious problems caused by unbalanced diet. Add to that the current price rises and inflation, and we may assume things are going to get worse.”

Georgians are aware of the problem, but many say they simply cannot afford anything better.

Nana Tarkashvili, a resident of the village of Vakiri in the Sighnaghi area of eastern Georgia, described a limited diet augmented by home-grown seasonal produce.

“In summer we have the cucumbers, tomatoes and fruit we grow in our garden. We can only afford meat and cheese twice a month, at best. In the winter, we mostly eat vegetables, since they’re more available,” Tarkashvili said.

“I’m on a salary so we live better than many others. There are many people in this village who don’t have a stable income, and they struggle to buy meat even for holidays.”

Manana Vardiashvili is a freelance journalist.
 

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