(Bloomberg) --

The Taliban government has cut import duties on food staples as it grapples with soaring prices and a cash crunch that have made it more difficult for Afghans to feed their families just when a bitter winter looms.    

Afghanistan has often struggled with soaring food prices due to shortages and supply-chain issues, posing a major issue for the Taliban that swept into power in August as U.S. troops were exiting. The country depends largely on imports and foreign aid for its food supply.

The Finance Ministry cut the import tariffs for a ton of flour to 1,000 afghanis ($11) from 3,095 afghanis, while those for one ton of cooking oil were more than halved to 2,012 afghanis from 5,885 afghanis, spokesman Ahmad Wali Haqmal said by phone. Import duties for a ton of sugar were reduced to 1,548 afghanis from 3,483 afghanis. 

Afghanistan brings in more than half of its food needs from neighboring countries, in particular Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Haqmal said. The country is also a significant rice buyer, consuming about 600,000 tons of rice annually, he added. 

Some of the imports were smuggled in to avoid duties with some customs officials getting bribed to help, Haqmal said. The Taliban were working to stop the corruption and as a result revenues from duties have doubled to $4 million a day compared to last month, he added.  

Winter Coming

Much is at stake for the Taliban and Afghanistan as the winter approaches. A United Nations report on Oct. 25 warned that more than half of Afghanistan’s population would face acute hunger from next month, driven by a deepening economic crisis.

The 22.8 million people at risk is the highest in the 10 years since the data was compiled, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said. That’s 37% higher than the previous assessment in April, before the Taliban took power.

In bid to address the problem, the Taliban unveiled a “food-for-work” program this week in Kabul. The plan was to give 40,000 people with jobs who would gets bags of wheat as payment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock said. 

The international community has agreed to channel aid through the United Nations as there is no firm consensus on how to deal with the Taliban. The U.S. and its allies have repeatedly said the Afghanistan government will be judged by actions rather than words.   

China plans to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday. “China urges U.S. and Western countries to lift sanctions, calls on all parties to engage with Afghan Taliban in a rational and pragmatic manner,” he told a news briefing.

There are reports that some countries may reach out. The European Union is mulling a plan to reopen its diplomatic office in Kabul to lobby for human rights and assist with humanitarian aid, the Financial Times reported. The Taliban broadly welcomed the decision.

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